Why are synthetic cannabinoids so dangerous?

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40 years ago research began on the creation of synthetic cannabinoids to evluate their possible clinical use for diseases like multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS, as well as a palliative for people with cancer who are going through chemotherapy.

The research was led by John Huffman and over the course of 20 years Huffman and his team created over 450 different synthetic cannabinoids to study the effect of cannabis on different diseases without having to deal with the legalities of using real marijuana. In the end they discovered more about the diseases they were study than the creation of safe synthetic cannabinoids.

Dangers of synthetic cannabinoids

There are many reasons why synthetic cannabinoids are considered so dangerous, some of which we will discuss in this article.

  1. Firstly, it is not cannabis: synthetic cannabinoids should never be confused with real cannabis. Although they share similar molecular compounds, they are not the same. These cannabinoids which have beencreated in laboratories are composed of different chemicals designed to interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, thus mimicking the effect of the main component found in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
  2. It is stronger: synthetic cannabinoids are much stronger than organic cannabis. It is believed that, even though it mimics THC, it actually binds more strongly to the receptors and can also bind to other receptors that THC would not normally interect with (Kemp, A et al., 2016).
  3. The symptoms of smoking these sythetic cannabinoids can be incredibly sever. The effects can include anything from nausea and diarrhea to cardiac arrythmias, seizures, depression and even death. Treating an overdose is incredibly difficult due to the number of symptoms that can occur at once. As well as this, as each new batch of synthetic cannabinoids released in to the market are different, the treatment is then also unique for each type.
  4. They are always changing: the manufacturers of these synthetic cannabinoids always remain one step ahead of the authorities. For this reason these drugs continue to be a strong epidemic. Each time a new batch of synthetic cannabinoids are tested and banned, the manufacturers change the chemical formula a little and release them back into the market under the same name or sometimes the name changes. By the time the authorities can test and ban the new chemical formulas, the manufacturers return to creating new ones. Due to these constant changes is the composition of these synthetic cannabinoids, it is very difficult for the authorities to detect these chemicals in a urine drug test. If they don’t know what to look for, how can they find it?
  5. It is toxic, dangerous and un-regulated: As we said before, the chemical substances in the synthetic cannabinoids are constantly changing. This means that EU regulatory agencies have to keep up with the manufacturers with drug testing everything. Most of the chemicals that are being used have never been lab tested on animals or humans and the amount used in the finished product is unknown and unregulated.
  6. It is appealing and easy to buy: as these synthetic cannabinoids can not be regulated, you can sell them anywhere. In addition, it can be produced in bulk making the price very low, much lower than real cannabis.
  7. It is highly addictive: not nearly enough research has been done on the long term effects of these synthetic cannabinoids. However, what is known right now is that they can be highly addictive after prolonged use. Withdrawrel symptoms can occur just a few hours after consumption. Some people who have gone through addiction and withdrawrel symptoms say it is similar to heroin and crack. (Parraudin F., 2017)

Due to the lack of research in this area, scientist and doctors must work from case studies (Seely K et al., 2014). What they have found is that each case is very different and unpredictable, which also adds to the difficulties when treating overdoeses and rehabilitation.

With all of the data mentioned in this article, it is no wonder that some countries, for example the USA, are working on legislation that will prohibit synthetic cannabinoids.


Kemp, A., Clark, M., Dobbs, T., Galli, R., Sherman, J. and Cox, R. (2017). Top 10 Facts You Need to Know About Synthetic Cannabinoids: Not So Nice Spice

Perraudin, F. (2017). ‘It’s worse than heroin’: how spice is ravaging homeless communities

Seely, K., Lapoint, J., Moran, J. and Fattore, L. (2012). Spice drugs are more than harmless herbal blends: A review of the pharmacology and toxicology of synthetic cannabinoids. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 39(2)

Wiley, J., Marusich, J., Huffman, J., Balster, R. and Thomas, B. (2011). Hijacking of Basic Research: The Case of Synthetic Cannabinoids

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