Synthetic Marijuana

 

Simply put, synthetic marijuana is a questionable (at best) concoction of man-made psychoactive chemicals sprayed on dried plant material. These psychoactive chemicals are meant to mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient found in real marijuana.1 Often referred to as “fake weed”, synthetic marijuana is sold in $30-$50 foil packets and are easy enough to find in gas stations, smoke shops or convenience stores. Marketed as a “safe” alternative to marijuana which is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, these things have successfully avoided regulation by simply being labeled “Not Safe for Human Consumption”. Synthetic marijuana is far from safe. They are actually more powerful than the real thing – with severe and unpredictable side effects that are dangerous and sometimes life threatening.

Screening Cut-off and Detection Time

GC/MS Cut-off Approximate Detection Time
Urine test 25 ng/ml up to 72 hours after use

DEA Drug Class

Synthetic marijuana is classified under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act which lists drugs, substances or chemicals that have a high potential for abuse with no current medical use. Examples of other drugs in this class are:

  • Ecstasy
  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Methaqualone
  • Peyote

Drug Type

Synthetic marijuana is a stimulant. While natural marijuana is classified as a mild hallucinogen-depressant and depending on a person’s response to it, synthetic marijuana without question is an exceptionally powerful stimulant with serious and often severe side effects because of its largely unknown composition of dangerous and unstable chemicals.

Forms and Routes of Administration

  • Smoking – the herbal incense or potpourri version of synthetic marijuana is smoked by using a pipe or other devices. Many people also roll it into a joint but some sites advise against doing it this way, and instead recommend simply using an incense burner.
  • Vaping – for liquid Spice/K2, there are two main techniques of vaping –  mouth-to-lung (MTL) and direct-lung-inhale (DLI).
  • MTL is much the same like smoking a cigarette, or sucking on a straw and letting the mouth fill with vapor. This technique makes use of tanks, preferably with high-ohm coils. The slow inhalation vaporizes the e-liquid slower, making the e-juice last longer.
  • DLI is much like taking a hit from a bong or shisha pipe. This technique draws the vapor straight down to the lungs and requires sub-ohm tanks.

Brand Names

  • 100% HIGH Quality
  • 3M
  • 500gr
  • 8-Ball
  • Ace of Spades
  • Aer Wave
  • Atomic Bomb
  • Aztec
  • Baby J
  • BAM
  • Bang
  • Barely Legal Express
  • BC’s Finest
  • Be’s Finest T.M.D.K.
  • Big Blue
  • Bizarro
  • Black Kush
  • Black Magic
  • Black Mamba
  • Black Widow
  • Blaze
  • Bloody Mary
  • Blue Berry
  • Blue Magic
  • Blueberry Blaze
  • BooM
  • BUDDHA Exclusive
  • Bugler
  • Burnin Man Hypnotic
  • California Dreams
  • California K2
  • Canja
  • Chill
  • Chronic Hypnotic
  • Clear Breeze
  • CLOUD 10
  • Cloud 9
  • Strength Blueberry
  • Cloud 9
  • Cobra King KUSH
  • Cobra
  • Comatose Candy
  • Captain Kava Dabs
  • Code Black
  • Cowboy Kush
  • Crazy Monkey
  • Crown
  • Daisy
  • Damiana
  • Dancing Monkey DANK
  • Dead Man Walking
  • Dr. Bones Piece of Shit-Bag
  • Dr. Express
  • Dr. Feel Good
  • Dragon
  • Dragon Eye
  • Dream On
  • Dreams
  • Dyno
  • Dynomite
  • D-ZL
  • Earth Blend
  • Earthquake
  • Express Aromatic
  • Extreme Herbal Incense
  • Extremely Legal XXX
  • F.U.B.A.R.
  • Funky Green Stuff
  • Funky Monkey
  • FUSION 3G
  • FUSION, 1G
  • G 6 Large Summit
  • G-13
  • Ganja
  • GENI a New Era
  • GI JOE
  • Glass Jar
  • Gods of Aroma
  • Gold Platinum
  • Golden Buddha GREEN EYE
  • Green Ghost Kush
  • Green Giant
  • Green KUSH
  • Green Window
  • Groove
  • GUCI Exotic
  • H2O 50
  • H2 Blonde
  • Hammer Head
  • Happy Shaman
  • Head Trip
  • Hookah Relax
  • Hysteria
  • iAroma
  • Inner Voyage
  • Insanity
  • Intensity Black
  • Jungle Juice
  • Jamaican Spirit
  • Janes Jungle Juice 5g PIN UP
  • Journey
  • Jungle K2 69
  • K2
  • K3
  • K4
  • Kanabliss
  • King Cobra
  • King John
  • Kings
  • Knocked Out
  • Kong
  • Krp2nite
  • Krunk Max
  • Kush
  • Legally BLIND
  • LIT (Lost in Trance)
  • Lucky Charm
  • Mad Hatter
  • Mad Monkey
  • Mango Skunk
  • Manic Organic
  • Marley Spice
  • Maya
  • Mayan
  • Mean Pit Bull XXX
  • Mile High
  • MOJO spice
  • Moon Rocks
  • Mr. and Mrs. Marley
  • Mr. Happy
  • Mr. Marley KUSH
  • Mr. Miyagi
  • Mr. Nice Guy
  • Mystery
  • MYSTIC
  • MYSTIQUE
  • NICE DREAMS
  • Nightmare
  • Ober Spice
  • OMEGA
  • On Point No BS Herbal Incense
  • One Love
  • Orange KUSH
  • OZ Original Premium 1GM
  • Passion Sense
  • Peach Bomb
  • Pin-Up
  • Planet Kratom
  • Pleasure
  • Poppin Cherry
  • Posh
  • Premium Herbal
  • Primo
  • Puff
  • Pulse
  • Pure Fyre
  • Purple Diesel
  • Purple Haze
  • Raptor 50
  • Rasta Spice
  • Red Dawn Spark 80
  • Red Dragon
  • Red Eye made by SPARK
  • Red Magic
  • RedXDawn
  • Rewind
  • Rising Sun 1X
  • Roach
  • Serenity
  • Sexy
  • Shisha
  • Skardface
  • Skull Killa
  • Skunk
  • Smurph
  • Soulsense Reserve
  • Sour Apple Diesel
  • Space Monkey
  • SPAZ
  • Spice 99
  • Spike
  • Spiz
  • Starwest Botanicals
  • Stink Eye
  • Storm
  • Super HASH
  • Super Kush
  • Supernova Ultra
  • Tease
  • The Big Bang
  • The Bomb
  • Thrax
  • Time Traveler
  • Time Wave 2012
  • URB Incense
  • Urban Kaos
  • Voodoo Child
  • White Rabbit
  • White Widow
  • Wicked
  • Wizard
  • Woodstock
  • XXX
  • Yucatan Fire
  • Zero Gravity
  • Zombie
  • Zombie Killa
  • Zombie Matter Zombie Warning
  • Zombie Wrecked

Uses of Synthetic Marijuana

With a Schedule I classification, synthetic marijuana has no useful medical applications and its only known “uses” are those that recreational users seek to experience. So, what are some of the reasons people use synthetic marijuana?

  • Lack of social skills – many young people feel awkward in social situations and use “chemically-induced courage” to cope. As Spice and/or K2 are readily available, many teens end up using them.
  • Low self-esteem – people with poor self-image sometimes make do with a few hours of “feel-good” vibes about themselves by taking drugs, and again Spice is so easy to get.
  • Peer pressure7 – Spice/K2 or synthetic marijuana in general is very accessible to adolescents, and the need to be accepted into certain circles is often a compelling enough reason for these kids to try using for the first time and to keep on using afterwards.
  • Stress – stress is a common motivation for people to begin using drugs that they think will offer an escape, even if only momentary.

Street Names

Effects

Synthetic cannabinoids bind to and trigger the same brain receptors that THC does, but while THC is a half/partial agonist only, synthetic cannabinoids are full agonists which produce a full biological response from that receptor.

Even with the limited knowledge gained from a few studies on the effects of synthetic cannabinoids on the brain, the scientific community appreciates that because they bind more strongly to the same cell receptors affected by THC, they produce stronger and more unpredictable effects. Added to this is the fact that most synthetic cannabinoid products have unknown chemical compositions that change all the time to avoid regulation. Some of these effects are similar to those produced by natural marijuana:8

  • altered awareness/perception
  • confusion
  • delusion/detachment from reality
  • elevated mood
  • extreme anxiety
  • hallucinations
  • paranoia
  • relaxation

Short-Term Effects

Many users, mostly adolescents seek out synthetic marijuana (K2/Spice) for the following marijuana-like effects:

  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Altered perception

The down side however is that these much sought-after effects have undesirable side-affects, mostly depending on whatever unknown substance is present in this unregulated drug:

  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Hypertension
  • Increased heart rate
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Severe anxiety
  • Vomiting

Long-Term Effects

Because there are limited studies, the long-term effects are not fully understood, other than what poison center experts report – that synthetic marijuana use can be life threatening in the long-term.

  • Addiction
  • Myocardial ischemia
  • Renal damage
  • Seizures
  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion
  • Paralysis

Dependence

One sure sign of physical addiction is the presence of the associated withdrawal syndrome. Long-term users of Spice/K2 or other synthetic marijuana who try to quit will experience seriously uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms:

Withdrawal symptoms include: 10

  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Disinterest in usual activities and interests
  • Drug cravings
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Fuzzy thinking
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Neglect of duties
  • Nightmares
  • Psychosis (hallucinations, paranoia)
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Tremors

History

John W. Huffman was an organic chemistry professor at Clemson University back in the 1980s. In 1984, he led a team of researchers and began working on cannabinoids, a class of chemicals found in marijuana. His work was backed by generous grants from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), and over the next 20 years has developed more than 450 cannabinoids that can mimic the effects of THC, the principal active component of real marijuana. The ultimate goal of his research was the development of pharmaceutical products that would target the endocannabinoid receptors in the body,3 particularly CB1 and CB2.

While there are other synthetic cannabinoid families (AM-xxx, JWH-xxx, HU-xxx, CP-xx)4, the JWH family of compounds figured prominently in the blame-game that ensued when synthetic marijuana products began flooding the U.S. market late in 2008, back when there were no DEA or FDA regulations in place. The German pharmaceutical company THC Pharm reported that in at least 3 versions of the herbal blend Spice (which has been selling as incense around the world since 2002 and was all over Europe by 2004), JWH-018 was found to be one of the active components. Germany then prohibited the use of JWH-018, only to discover some 4 weeks later that the new samples they obtained now contained JWH-073.5 Huffman believes that of the entire JWH family of compounds, JWH-018 is the most widely used as it is more potent than most and is easy to make.

In 2011, testing laboratories began developing LC/MS/MS screening and confirmatory testing for detecting synthetic cannabinoids in response to their increasing prevalence in the American workplace. Employers initially began requesting testing for synthetic cannabinoids due to reasonable suspicion and accidents in the workplace, but by 2012 after the results started showing a trend, the tests were expanded to include pre-employment and random testing. Back then available panels only included 8 compounds. By 2014, tests were able to detect 21 compounds even if the original top suspects JWH-018 and JWH-073 have since been replaced by new synthetics. The exact chemical make-up of synthetic cannabinoids keeps evolving. As more individual compounds are banned by the federal government, underground chemists simply replace them with something else.

More and more high profile corporations (mining, oil & gas, railroads etc.) include synthetic panels in their workplace drug testing programs and it looks like these programs will only strengthen over time, considering that the manufacturers of these synthetic compounds have so far managed to stay 1 step ahead the law.