What is synthetic marijuana? Synthetic marijuana, also known as synthetic cannabinoids, refers to artificial chemicals that are designed to mimic the effects of cannabis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there are hundreds of different chemicals sold as synthetic marijuana. Despite being marketed as safe and legal, synthetic cannabinoids are associated with serious health risks. Read on to find out what makes these chemicals so dangerous.
Synthetic Weed: The Facts
Synthetic cannabinoids belong to a group of drugs called new psychoactive substances, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). These lab-made substances are similar to the cannabinoids found naturally in the marijuana plant, and they interact with the same brain cell receptors as THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis.
Synthetic cannabinoids are commonly sprayed on dried or shredded plant material and sold in small packets. You may also encounter these substances as liquid meant to be vaporized with an e-cigarette. These products are manufactured with no oversight, making them highly dangerous, Jordan Tishler, MD, Founder of InhaleMD and President of the Association of Cannabinoid Specialists, tells WebMD Connect to Care. They are sold under numerous brand names, including K2 and Spice.
In addition, “There are synthetic cannabinoids that have just come on the semi-legal market like delta-8 THC, delta-0 THC, and delta-10 THC, all of which are synthesized from cannabinoids in hemp (non-THC producing cannabis),” Tishler says.
At the moment, such chemicals exist in a legal gray area.
“These are not regulated, so not exactly illegal, but not legal either and not safe because there’s no regulation making sure there are no toxic byproducts of the synthesis still in the mix,” Tishler adds. “Further, while these are becoming widely available, there is little to no science on whether or not they are safe or useful for human illness.”
Synthetic Cannabinoids and Substance Use Disorder
According to NIDA, many companies selling synthetic cannabinoids are guilty of false advertising. While labels claim that the product is made from natural plant material, the psychoactive ingredients are in fact lab-manufactured.
The effects of these chemicals tend to be more extreme and unpredictable than those produced by THC. NIDA also reports that synthetic cannabinoids do come with a risk of abuse and addiction.
“Since the effects are so much more severe, the reaction to withdrawal is equally dramatic, which leads toe and negative behaviors,” Tishler explains.
According to NIDA, common effects of synthetic cannabinoids include:
- Altered perception
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Symptoms of psychosis
In severe cases, synthetic cannabinoids can cause elevated blood pressure, cardiac complications, kidney damage, and seizures.
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