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What Is Synthetic Marijuana?

what is synthetic marijuana

If you visit a smoke shop, you may find some colorful products from various brands. They have many different brand names, but the product is usually called K2, Spice, THC-O, or Rocks.

What is very misleading is that the smokable products are also referred to as ‘synthetic marijuana’ on the packaging. Many consumers believe they are purchasing a derivative of cannabis. But while K2 or Spice has similarities to cannabinoids, they are made entirely of chemicals that pose a threat to human health.

Friendly physicians that listen and care about your wellness goals. That is what makes DocMJ the first choice for patients who want to add medical cannabis to their treatment plan. Our doctors in Massachusetts are committed to helping qualified patients safely explore medical marijuana as a new alternative health option.

We want to share information about this dangerous new drug to help educate our patients. While the psychoactive effects of synthetic cannabinoids may feel similar to medical marijuana, the products have a high risk of developing significant health problems.

Schedule an appointment with DocMJ to apply for your medical card. And learn more about our educational outreach and the mental health services we provide our patients.

doctor and patient

What is Synthetic Marijuana?

Don’t be fooled by the name because synthetic marijuana does not come from the cannabis plant. Other common words for the psychoactive substances include Amsterdam Gold, Bliss, Black Mamba, Bombay Blue, Genie, Scooby Skunk, Mary Joy, Blue Cheese, Snax, or Fake Weed, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) fact sheet.

Spice or K2 synthetic weed is not cannabis at all. It is a mixture of dried plant material that can look like potpourri. Then there is a chemical composition sprayed on the dried plant material. The types of plant material and chemicals used are unknown. And Spice’s potency and potential health risks are also impossible to know, as the products are illegal and not regulated by the FDA.

How is Synthetic Marijuana Different Than Cannabis?

Products made from synthetic cannabinoids are not derived from cannabis. They are entirely artificial, and harmful chemicals cause psychoactive effects that are much more potent than cannabis.

While different products have unique formulations, the majority of synthetic cannabinoids are created from the following five chemicals, which are classified as Schedule 1 (prohibited) on the Controlled Substances Act:

  • Cannabicyclohexanol
  • JWH-073
  • JWH-200
  • CP-47, 497
  • JWH-018

The chemicals used to produce synthetic cannabinoids bind more quickly to the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors. The psychoactive substances last 1-6 hours, depending on the potency and other factors such as body weight, empty stomach versus recent meal, cannabinoid tolerance, and more.

Is Delta-THC Considered Synthetic Marijuana?

No. Because Delta-THC products, such as Delta-8 or Delta-10, are hemp-derived cannabinoids. Agricultural hemp extractions are condensed and used to create Delta-THC gummies, vapes, and ‘moon rocks’ (Delta bud).

All Delta-THC products must come from agricultural hemp. And currently, the products are legal to buy, use and possess due to the legalization of hemp-derived products by the federal government in 2018.

Where Are Synthetic Marijuana Products Sold?

While hemp-derived products like Delta-THC, pure hemp oil vape, gummies, and others are federally legalized, synthetic cannabinoid products are not. Yet you still find them at virtually every smokeshop and sometimes at gas stations and retail stores that sell tobacco products.

smoke shop sign

Because the products are illegal to manufacture and sell, you will not find K2, Spice, or other synthetic cannabinoids available at reputable licensed dispensaries.

Are Synthetic Cannabinoid Products Legal?

No amount of K2 or Spice is allowed, as the products are federally illegal and prohibited by state law. Synthetic cannabinoid products emerged in the United States around 2005, so they have been around for a long time. And they predate legalized medical cannabis in all states; they were accessible, cheap, and caused similar psychoactive effects.

It isn’t very clear for consumers because K2 or Spice is everywhere. It is important to remember that just because they can be found, and purchased, doesn’t make them legal to buy or use. Delaware and Maine are the only states that have not formalized a ban on the sale or use of synthetic cannabinoids.

Why Do People Use Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Affordability and accessibility are the two main reasons why people purchase synthetic cannabinoid products. Synthetic cannabinoids act on the human brain and body similarly to marijuana.

One of the other reasons why some people risk using synthetic cannabinoids compared to cannabis is randomized drug testing. Unlike THC, the most common drug tests do not detect synthetic cannabinoids in urine or blood samples.

Unfortunately because of the availability and low cost of K2 or Spice synthetic cannabinoids, use has increased among adolescents. And unlike products derived from hemp or the marijuana plant, there are alarming health effects and symptoms that people using synthetic cannabinoids can experience.

Can You Get High on Synthetic Marijuana?

side effects

Yes, you can. But the impairment caused by synthetic cannabinoids is far stronger than cannabis. Some people who try the products are caught off guard by the difference in potency and impairment.

The effects of consuming Spice or K2 are similar to cannabis and may cause the following sensations:

  • Feelings of happiness and euphoria.
  • Emotional and physical relaxation.
  • Perma-smile or “the giggles.”
  • Loss of concentration, short-term memory functioning, and focus.
  • Poor hand/eye or movement coordination.
  • Paranoia.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure (hypertension).

People who use medical marijuana may familiarize themselves with certain potencies and the psychoactive effects of their favorite strains. But some studies have found large variances in potency not only between brands of synthetic cannabinoids but also in the same product batch.

This means some people underestimate the potency and are at a greater risk of experiencing some of the more severe (and possibly life-threatening) symptoms of taking synthetic cannabinoids.

Synthetic Cannabinoids Affect After Consumption

The effects of organic cannabis human consumption can be difficult to predict because of the entourage effects of natural terpenes, flavonoids, and secondary cannabinoids. However, the chemicals used in Spice can result in some consistent and known side effects.

Some of the health hazardous symptoms of using toxic synthetic cannabinoids may include (but are not limited to):

  • Hot flashes.
  • Agitation and aggression.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Numbness in muscles and extremities (fingers, toes).
  • Tremors and muscle spasms.
  • Seizures.
  • Thoughts of suicide and self-harm.
  • Stroke.
  • Psychosis.

Because normal drug tests cannot detect synthetic cannabinoids, it can create a problem for first responders and health care. The incidents of Americans visiting emergency rooms after taking K2 or Spice averages over 10,000 admissions per year. And emergency healthcare workers cannot detect the drug, which can put patients at great risk.


What Happens If You Mix Synthetics With Real Cannabis?

This is another way that illicit synthetic cannabinoids are used. Some people combine K2 with marijuana sometimes with a false belief that weed will reduce the negative symptoms. And provide a better “high” with fewer side effects.

However, as synthetic cannabinoids bind more quickly and easily compared to marijuana, it is absorbed first. Whether you mix it with cannabis or not, the toxic chemicals in Spice will trump any benefits from organic cannabinoids.

Can CBD Reduce the Effects of Spice?

There is no research to determine whether taking cannabidiol (CBD) with synthetic marijuana can reduce harmful and uncomfortable side effects. Or promote faster recovery from symptoms after human consumption of Spice.



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