Synthetic marijuana was designed in an attempt to circumvent drug laws and provide a legal, marijuana-like high. Synthetic marijuana is usually made from dried plant materials with synthetic chemicals added that produce effects in the brain similar to those of marijuana. Manufacturers often claim that the substance is all-natural, but according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), chemical analyses have shown the active ingredients to be synthetic or designer cannabinoid compounds. Since the five active chemicals most often found in synthetic marijuana have a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical value they fit the criteria for a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning that any possession is illegal.
The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has scheduled these ingredients as controlled substances, but manufacturers of synthetic marijuana continue to attempt to find new active ingredients that mimic the effects of THC but are still legal while the DEA struggles to keep up with the ever-growing list of active ingredients. Further compounding the problem is the fact that studies such as one conducted by the German government have often found that the active ingredients are chemicals other than those listed on the package. In other words, if you smoke synthetic marijuana you cannot be sure of what you are ingesting.
The History of Synthetic Marijuana
Synthetic marijuana first appeared in Europe in 2004. The Psyche Deli in London, U.K. introduced the first synthetic marijuana brand, called Spice. Spice dominated the market until 2009 so competing brands were also known as Spice, which has come to be a catch-all term for any synthetic marijuana.
Other slang terms for synthetic marijuana include but are not limited to the following:
- Black Mamba
- Bombay Blue
- Fake Weed
- Yucatan Fire
- Moon Rocks
Health Effects of Synthetic Marijuana
Initially users of synthetic marijuana report effects very similar to those of marijuana, including elevated mood and relaxation. Some users report that the effects are more pronounced than with marijuana. Some users also report more severe psychological effects such as hallucinations, paranoia, and extreme anxiety.
So far there have not been any clinical studies of the effects of synthetic marijuana on the brains of users. However, NIDA claims to have determined that the active ingredients in synthetic marijuana bind to the same receptors in the brain as does THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. This may explain, at least in part, the similarities between a marijuana high and a synthetic marijuana high. NIDA also claims that some of the ingredients in synthetic marijuana bind more strongly to those receptors and may produce more powerful effects.
Since ingredients may vary and packaging information has been proven to be unreliable, synthetic marijuana may contain unknown ingredients of undetermined toxicity. Again, you simply don’t know what you’re smoking or what it might do to you.
Poison control centers have treated patients for synthetic marijuana exposure and report witnessing symptoms that include agitation, confusion, hallucinations, vomiting, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and reduced blood flow to the heart. Synthetic marijuana has also been linked to heart attacks.
Treatment for Abuse of or Addiction to Synthetic Marijuana
It is not yet clear whether synthetic marijuana causes physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. It is clear, however, that like organic marijuana it can be addictive. If you or someone you know needs treatment for addiction, please call our toll-free 24-hour helpline.