The first step in coming to an understanding of what exactly synthetic marijuana is to understand that it’s not actually marijuana at all. The synthetic part of the term is accurate because it is man made and not a derivative of the cannabis plant.
Synthetic marijuana contains chemicals that bind to the same CB1 receptors that the THC of organic marijuana does to produce the high. The difference is that the chemicals bind to them with much greater enthusiasm.
This makes it so that synthetic cannabinoids can be anywhere from 2 to 100 times more powerful than their organic counterparts. Needless to say, that level of potency is NOT going to be what the average recreational or medicinal user is going to enjoy. Unless side effects like vomiting, chest pain, an elevated heart rate, vision blackouts, headaches, kidney damage, agitation, high blood pressure, and psychosis sound appealing.
This isn’t an expected answer given to those who might be asking the question ‘What is Spice?’, but in all honesty there’s nothing good to say about synthetic cannabis. In fact, it may cause severe and immediate health risks.
John W. Huffman, one of the original chemists who designed synthetic cannabis for research purposes, said anyone who would voluntarily ingest something with so much potential toxicity is an ‘idiot.’ This fact alone should be a resounding endorsement of the fact that it is best to completely avoid it and only smoke, vape, or ingest natural marijuana products.
Extensive Risk Factors of Synthetic Marijuana
Spice made its first appearance in 2008, following a couple of decades during which laboratories were exploring the pharmaceutical applications of synthetic cannabinoids. Since then, there have been many other variations of synthetic cannabis developed and distributed.
The bulk of these synthetic cannabinoids were being manufactured in China, and this continues to be the case today. The process involves taking any type of dried, green organic plant material and then spraying it with the chemical compounds that give Spice, K2 and other types of artificial marijuana it’s potency.
In a best-case scenario the blends are prepared using high-proof alcohol, while in worst-case ones it will be mixed up with some type of an acetone solvent. So, when you smoke synthetic marijuana you are choosing to ingest these toxic reagents.
Short and long-term affects of synthetic cannabis include:
- Fast and irregular heartbeat
- Racing thoughts
- Agitation, paranoia, and anxiety
- Aggressive and violet behaviour
- Chest pain
- Acute kidney injury
- Stroke or death when ingested in large quantities over a short period of time OR in instances where the product contains one of the ‘hot spots’ explained above.
It is important to understand that these CB1 receptors are present in nearly every different region of the brain. Having strong-binding and long-lasting compounds going to many different areas of the brain and the same time increases the likelihood of very negative effects. Their affect on the hippocampus, and temporal and prefrontal cortexes are particularly significant. To make matters worse, these synthetic marijuana products are often highly addictive, and users who seek to stop using them will often experience powerful withdrawal symptoms.
Some of the common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Powerful and medication-resistant headaches
- Severe anxiety
- Panic attacks
Keep in mind as well that there are other substances in genuine, organic marijuana (cannabidiol most notably) that protect against anxiety and psychotic symptoms and are said to balance out the direct effects of THC on the brain. These substances are not found in synthetic cannabinoids, and the body also cannot deactivate synthetic metabolites the way it can with naturally occurring psychoactive substances like THC in natural marijuana.
Decrease in Use / Production of Synthetic Cannabinoids Following Legalization
The majority of people who use synthetic cannabinoids do so because marijuana is still illegal in their state or country. This is one of the best reasons around as to why marijuana should be legal everywhere.
Another less common reason is that this product will not make you test positive if you need to take a drug test for any reason. These products are not required by law to label their products accurately and consistently, and the concern then becomes that people who choose to use them have no idea what they’re actually getting. When you pair this with the fact that these products are prone to having ‘hot spots’ and the use of synthetic marijuana becomes very dangerous.
In addition to Spice and K2, other synthetic weed products go by names like Kronic, Northern Lights, Mojo, Lightning Gold, Blue Lotus, Yucatan Fire, Moon Rocks, Blaze, and Godfather. More variants of it that should be similarly avoided are aphrodisiac teas, herbal incenses, and potpourri.
While it is recommended to completely avoid synthetic cannabis, there are certain individuals who are at a much greater risk for averse effects related to smoking synthetic marijuana.
- Individuals who have been drinking or consuming other recreational drugs, and in particular stimulants like crystal methamphetamine (‘ice’) or MDMA (‘ecstasy’)
- Individuals who plan to drive or operate heavy machinery any time with 8-10 hours of ingesting it
- Persons with mental health problems
- Individuals who will be choosing to be alone while experiencing the high of synthetic cannabinoids
- Persons with an existing heart problem
By now it should be very clear that synthetic cannabis poses severe potential health risks and you should avoid it. Experts agree that by legalizing cannabis in Canada, there will be a significant decrease in use of synthetic cannabis. This is primarily because natural marijuana will be more readily available and there will be no need for people to avoid it for any type of legality concerns.