Synthetic cannabinoids: why they’re not cannabis and how you can tell them apart

Synthetic cannabinoids: why they’re not cannabis and how you can tell them apart

Di: Contributor Blog

Synthetic cannabinoids, also known as synthetic marijuana, appeared at the beginning of the 21st century as an alternative to drugs like ‘Spice’, ‘K2’, ‘Kronic’, or other narcotic substances. Although these compounds were created in the lab to help scientists study the endocannabinoid system, their effects can be unpredictable, extremely harmful, or even life-threatening. Here we explain what they consist of, so you know how to differentiate them from natural cannabinoids (i.e. phytocannabinoids).

Synthetic cannabinoids are lab-manufactured chemical compounds that were originally designed to mimic or produce cannabis-like effects (hence why they’re also known as cannabimimetic compounds). However, they are not a synthetic form of marijuana and do not actually mimic the effects of THC, as they produce several negative effects which aren’t characteristic of the cannabis plant.

There are more than two hundred different man-made cannabinoids that have been identified internationally, all with chemical structures different from that of THC. Each can cause different responses in the body (for instance, the synthetic cannabinoid AMB-FUBINACA can deliver an effect 75 times stronger than that of THC), but none of them have been clinically tested, so their level of tolerance or safety has not yet been established.

Types of synthetic cannabinoids

These products have become popular among teenage users as they can be easily obtained on websites or at head shops’ (i.e. specialised paraphernalia stores). Nonetheless, many of them have been banned in several countries after being identified as ‘herbal products’, although manufacturers keep skirting the law by creating new products with different compositions or by labelling them as ‘unfit for human consumption’.

The best-known family of synthetic cannabinoids is ‘JWH’, named after John W. Huffman, Professor of Organic Chemistry at Clemson University (South Carolina), who was the first to synthesise them as pharmacological tools for studying endocannabinoids. This family comprises more than 60 known compounds, some of which are the key components in drugs like Spice or K2. One of them, JWH-018, produces strong pharmacological effects, is easily synthesised, and is used to create other synthetic cannabinoids with different characteristics and affinity to the CB receptors. Other examples include JWH-073, MAM-2201, and AM-2201.

Other groups of common man-made cannabinoids include ‘HU’ and ‘CP’. HU (Hebrew University) compounds are classic cannabinoids, whereas CP compounds are cannabimimetics originally developed by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer in the 1970s, so they’ve never been commercialised. Beyond the synthetic cannabinoid HU-210, which scientists use to identify cannabinoid receptors in the brain and study the effects of Delta-9-THC, there are no approved medical applications of synthetic marijuana.

How to recognise ‘fake weed’

Synthetic marijuana is usually presented as a mixture of dried leaves from herbal plants and is commercialised as ‘incense’, ‘aphrodisiac tea’, or ‘herbal potpourri’. It is presented in different colours, including green, brown, or red; and is often sold in small packets made of aluminium foil in several colours or plastic bags with an air-tight seal. These products are promoted as an alternative to cannabis that is not detectable through automated drug analysis methodology.

Synthetic cannabinoids are manufactured in powder form in Asia, without following any regulations or standards (and where there’s limited control of the export of research chemical products). These are smuggled into Western countries, where they are dissolved in a solvent that is then sprayed on finely chopped plant matter.

The resulting product is finally sold online or in convenience stores, so there’s no quality control in the process. There’s also a huge variability in the amount of synthetic cannabinoid present in different batches or even in a single dose, which can increase the risk of overdose.

Synthetic cannabinoids have also emerged in the form of liquid oil for use in electronic cigarettes or vaporisers. These can also be added to edibles (gummies, chocolates, etc.) or can be turned into a drink.

What effects does synthetic cannabis produce?

People who have used these products claim that you get a high that is similar to that of marijuana, though it doesn’t last as long. Others experience a feeling of relaxation, rather than the ‘mental high’ produced by real cannabis. Mood and perception may change, and concentration and coordination may become difficult.

Possibly because of their potency, synthetic cannabinoids are more likely to be associated with hallucinations than natural cannabis, in addition to causing severe reactions like paranoia, panic attacks, violent behaviour, or even delusional thoughts. Compared to cannabis, the associated psychotic symptoms are more severe and can last for weeks.

Their ‘harsh’ flavour is also worth mentioning. Users claim that “it makes your throat burn and your lungs hurt” after smoking. Since there are no regulations for the manufacture, packaging, or sale of synthetic weed, it is impossible to know the types and amounts of chemical compounds in each product, so you can never be sure of the potency of every dose.

What are the risks of synthetic cannabinoids?

Most synthetic cannabinoids are harmful and produce unpredictable effects. Most importantly, users can react to these compounds in different ways. For some, the effects may be more severe than for others, and may be intensified by other drugs or alcohol, by the user’s mental health, or by the presence of underlying medical conditions.

To date, very few studies have been published that prove the effects of these chemicals, although some reports claim that certain overdoses have led to fatal heart attacks. Similarly, these synthetics have been associated with acute renal injuries, resulting in hospitalisation and dialysis.

Beyond these short-term effects, other side effects have also been observed in users of synthetic marijuana, including: increase in blood pressure, seizures, tremors, anxiety, high fever, sweating, nervousness, confusion, organ failure, coma, or even death.

Although we’ve only scratched the surface regarding synthetic cannabinoids, it is vital to spread awareness about their negative repercussions. The main problem right now is that absolutely nothing is known about their toxicity levels or their metabolites. Therefore, it must be made clear that they’re potentially highly dangerous and should never be consumed.

How to avoid using synthetic cannabinoids?

Without any doubt, the best way to stay clear of synthetic cannabinoids is by learning about all the benefits of the natural cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant. That way, it will be easier to avoid falling into the temptation of trying this harmful version, which will most likely only bring disastrous consequences.

Phytocannabinoids are rarely associated with significantly adverse effects and have a remarkable safety record, which is endorsed by thousands of scientific studies. In addition, marijuana use cannot lead to a fatal overdose, regardless of its potency or the quantity consumed.

In Kannabia’s catalogue you can find various strains that have been hybridised to obtain the highest THC levels, but we also have other varieties that are focused on other cannabinoids which have shown enormous potential. These include cannabidiol-rich strains such as BCN Diesel CBD, Swiss Dream CBD, or Kama Kush CBD.

CBD has been the ‘trendiest cannabinoid’ in the last few years for its wide range of therapeutic properties. Nonetheless, it’s also important to pay attention to minority cannabinoids such as cbg (cannabigerol), which showcases some analgesic qualities that can exceed those of THC but without producing any psychoactive effects. In this case, the strain that you should definitely try is our CBG Auto.

Other cannabinoids with a promising future are THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) and CBDV (cannabidivarin). Like THC, THCV delivers a euphoric effect but also helps inhibit the appetite. On the other hand, CBDV showcases as many medicinal properties as CBD, and has already been studied for use in patients who suffer from nausea or epilepsy. If you want to get to know these better, we recommend our THCV and CBDV Auto strains.

As you can see, the easiest way to get these ‘true’ cannabinoids is through the self-cultivation of marijuana, a practice that is not only full of advantages for personal growth but also ensures that all the cannabinoids that you produce are natural and safe.

Kannabia Seeds Company sells to its customers a product collection, a souvenir. We cannot and we shall not give growing advice since our product is not intended for this purpose.

Kannabia accept no responsibility for any illegal use made by third parties of information published. The cultivation of cannabis for personal consumption is an activity subject to legal restrictions that vary from state to state. We recommend consultation of the legislation in force in your country of residence to avoid participation in any illegal activity.