Believe it or not, synthetic marijuana is chemically different from natural marijuana and is, in fact, a lot more dangerous. The compounds that make up synthetic pot are linked to a number of serious side effects including psychosis, seizures, and even death.
The reality is that these compounds produce a variety of dangerous, acute and chronic adverse effects and have a greater severity than what is observed following typical marijuana use. Manufacturers first started to sell synthetic marijuana in the early 2000s, as a safe alternative to marijuana and as a substance that would not show up on a standard drug test.
Today, there are over 150 different types of synthetic marijuana compounds. These products are designed to activate two key receptors in our body, known as CB1 and CB2. These are the same receptors that THC binds to, and although they activate the same receptors, natural marijuana and synthetic marijuana are structurally different. In this article, we will be taking a closer look at what synthetic marijuana is, what Marinol is, and what some of the dangers of using synthetic pot are.
What is synthetic marijuana?
For those of us who may not be in the know, synthetic marijuana – also often referred to by its street names “spice” or “K2” – is a mixture of spices and herbs that are sprayed as a concentrated form of laboratory-produced THC (THC, as we all know, is the mind-altering ingredient found in cannabis).
Essentially, synthetic marijuana is made with crude chemical manipulation, rather than being extracted from the raw cannabis plant. Many of these synthetic drugs are falsely advertised as being “safe,” “natural,” and “legal” highs, when in reality the truth is quite the opposite.
In fact, if you’ve ever heard of these “false advertisements” you probably won’t be surprised to hear that chemical analyses tend to show the active synthetic weed ingredients as having dangerous and toxic effects. Even more shocking is that, technically speaking, the user has no idea what chemicals are going into their body, and/or what the effect will be (this is because the chemical composition of products sold as K2, or spice, is largely unknown). Also, since the herbs and spices can be sprayed unevenly, the potency can vary drastically from batch to batch.
All things told, synthetic marijuana can be made up of nearly 100 different chemicals, but while different chemicals are used, the compounds have similar traits to natural pot:
- They activate at CB1 receptors in the brain, which are the same receptors that are activated by consuming regular weed (this is why it’s also often referred to as “synthetic cannabinoids”)
- Mostly concentrated in China and other Pacific Rim countries
- It can be hundreds of times stronger than weed on a dose-by-dose comparison
- Many of the synthetic chemicals used to make the product are illegal to sell, possess, or use in the United States
Synthetic marijuana looks like dried leaves, and you will often find it for sale in small, silvery plastic bags as “herbal license” or possibly “potpourri.” It’s also sold in liquid form to be used in vaporizers.
Often it is smoked in e-cigarettes, rolled joints or pipes, and some users make it in brownies or tea. Some common street names for synthetic marijuana are; Skunk, Bombay Blue, Mojo, Silent Black, and Chaos.
While many types of synthetic marijuana are illegal in the United States, manufactures continue to develop new versions that often aren’t covered by existing law, and can’t be detected on drug tests. There are also certain types of synthetic marijuana that are products of pharmaceutical companies, and are used for medical purposes. Examples of these are Marinol, Epidiolex, and Sativex.
U.S News Story
In 2015, the U.S news reported on a case involving synthetic marijuana. In March of that year, many young men were taken to the Montefiore Hospital acting extremely confused and violent. Many of these patients tested positive for drug use, but the degree of confusion and violence was a lot higher than doctors would have anticipated. After a few days, once the patients had been sedated, they all had similar stories as to what led them to the hospital. Yes, you guessed it, they had all used synthetic marijuana.
What is Marinol
Marinol is the brand name for a synthetic form of THC called dronabinol. It has been used in generic form since the 1980s, when it was first used to treat symptoms caused by AIDS. It contains only one cannabinoid (THC), it’s very strong, and by most accounts it doesn’t work as effectively as whole plant medicines (like high-quality CBD oil). Just like other synthetic marijuana, it is synthesized in a lab rather than extracted from the cannabis plant.
Initially it was developed in an attempt to commercialize a cannabinoid-based medicine. Most patients, however, do not like it. They feel that it either doesn’t work at all or is so intense that they cannot deal with the effects. It’s also been known to upset the stomach, especially for patients already suffering from nausea.
Marinol doesn’t contain CBD, which is starting to become the most highly valued cannabinoid in the medical community. However (perhaps quite shockingly), Marinol is a legal, Schedule 3 substance that is covered by health insurance, unlike actual medical marijuana. We can only hope that the rise of “whole plant” medicines will finally put an end to Marinol.
Marinol is usually prescribed for nausea, wasting syndrome, and chronic pain that is caused by movement disorders like MS and dystonia. The FDA first approved the use of Marinol in 1985 for the treatment of nausea and vomiting that was associated with chemotherapy.
What are the dangers of using synthetic marijuana?
The effects of synthetic pot are highly unpredictable because the actual chemicals in each package can be drastically different, and may vary from batch to batch. Also, many users experience different effects than intended. Some of the reported side effects of synthetic marijuana include kidney injury, convulsions, stroke, toxicity to the heart, and anxiety. To date, there have been 20 deaths linked to the use of synthetic marijuana. Here are some of its most common dangers:
It’s more potent than natural marijuana
Studies have found that synthetic marijuana compounds activate the CB1 receptor to a higher degree than THC does. This suggests that synthetic marijuana can induce far more intense effects than regular marijuana. Also, when some of these compounds are broken down by the body, their by-products can activate the CB1 receptor. This could undoubtedly increase the toxicity of the drug.
Furthermore, because synthetic marijuana compounds have such a diverse structure, they could activate other receptors – not just CB1 and CB2. This explains why they would produce adverse effects that are not found in natural marijuana.
A study from the University of Maryland and the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that synthetic marijuana could be between 100 and 200x times stronger than natural marijuana. This is why there is the possibility of a psychotic episode, organ damage, or even death from using synthetic marijuana.
Higher chance of addiction
Unlike cannabis which has a low addiction rate, synthetic marijuana is highly addictive. Withdrawal symptoms from synthetic marijuana can also be hazardous, which makes relapse a likely occurrence. In fact, withdrawal from synthetic marijuana has been known to cause a loss in cognitive function, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.
The withdrawal symptoms are often very similar to those experienced when withdrawing from other narcotics, even though the compounds from synthetic pot are metabolized differently inside the body. While natural cannabis is turned into non-psychoactive substances when metabolized, synthetic cannabinoids result in additional metabolites that are psychoactive and stimulate cannabinoid receptors. This is the reason that synthetic pot is so toxic and potent.
Experience can vary drastically
Since the chemicals found in synthetic marijuana affect everyone differently, you could have a pleasant experience one time and a dangerous one the next. Because there is often no regulation over these products, they can either mess you up big time or they do nothing at all. It’s not like natural marijuana, where you find a strain that works for you, and you stick to it because of its routine and anticipated effects.
No presence of other cannabinoids
Marijuana contains many cannabinoids – not just THC and CBD. There are well over 80 cannabinoids and many other compounds called terpenoids that are found in marijuana. It is thought that some of these cannabinoids work to offset the negative side effects that may be produced by a single cannabinoid. This is called the Entourage Effect. Essentially what this means is that as a group, the cannabinoids found in marijuana work better than they would alone. Also, terpenoids could modulate the effects of marijuana.
Synthetic marijuana doesn’t contain any of the other cannabinoids. For example, Marinol is pure THC. This is why it is often not well tolerated by patients. While it’s intended to combat nausea associated with chemotherapy and anorexia, it actually induces an unpleasant “high” that can result in panic.
Hallucinations, violent behavior, and suicidal thoughts
Synthetic marijuana is a psychoactive substance that can cause an altered mental perception of the world. The high that is often induced by these products is associated with irritability, sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, and the inability to concentrate. In the worst cases, using synthetic marijuana can cause hallucinations, violent behavior, and suicidal thoughts.
Moreover, various studies have all shown that synthetic marijuana use among teens leads to an increased risk of violent behavior, risky sex, and abuse of other drugs. A study that collected information from around 16,000 schools in 2015, for example, found that teens who used synthetic marijuana were more likely to carry a gun to school, or get into a fight as compared to kids who used normal marijuana.
Why is the natural cannabis plant better?
In all honesty, we probably don’t even need to explain this one. Regardless, here are a few reasons why you would probably choose natural cannabis over synthetic cannabis:
- It’s easier to control your dosing with natural cannabis because synthetic marijuana is often so potent, that even 5 mg of Marinol can be too much for some patients to handle
- Medical cannabis contains more efficient medicine – it contains all of the plant’s cannabinoids (and additional compounds), which increase the overall therapeutic effectiveness of the plant
- Synthetic marijuana has dangerous side effects, while natural cannabis for the most part does not. Many patients can’t tolerate Marinol because it is simply too potent.
Final thoughts on synthetic marijuana
Although it’s often sold as a “safe” and “legal” alternative to cannabis, don’t be fooled by synthetic marijuana, as it is, in fact, a completely different class of chemicals. They are unpredictable and highly dangerous, and could be contaminated with more toxic and unreported chemicals, and you would have no idea.
If ever in doubt, make the wiser choice and stick to the real thing — you know, good old marijuana. With the increased legality and public support that’s currently backing cannabis, it is only a matter of time before it becomes a vital part of the medical world. Synthetic marijuana, for the large part, cannot say the same thing.