Since marijuana is still illegal in most states, the alternative that many people are turning to is synthetic (artificial) marijuana. However, the rising cases of people suffering from the terrible side effects of this fake weed has raised concerns about the safety of this drug. Understanding what man-made marijuana is, how it is made, and how it is different from the marijuana plant, can help one understand it health risks.
What is Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic cannabinoids are man-made chemicals similar to the cannabinoids in the marijuana weed. This is the reason fake cannabinoids are called fake weed or synthetic marijuana and are marketed as legal, safe alternatives to the marijuana drug.
Artificial cannabinoids are imported from China and mixed with acetone solvents or alcohol and the by-product is sprayed on to the plant host material. Artificial cannabinoids belong to a group of drugs known as “new psychoactive substances” or NPS.
These are unregulated mind-altering drugs that are available in the market and that mimic the effects of illegal drugs. Manufacturers package these incense products in attractive foil packages and market them using various brand names such as:
- Black Mamba
For many years, synthetic cannabinoid has been easily accessible in drug shops, gas stations, and novelty stores. Since the chemicals in them are highly addictive, authorities have prohibited the sale.
However, producers sidestep these legal restrictions by altering the chemical formulas of their mixtures. The easy accessibility and the mentality that fake cannabinoids are natural and harmless have contributed to the popularity of the products among the youth.
One other main reason these drugs are common is that drug tests are not able to detect the chemicals in these products.
Where Does Synthetic Marijuana Come From?
In the early 90s, a chemist in South Carolina, John W. Huffman, started research on the artificial ways of mimicking the cannabinoids found in marijuana in order to determine the therapeutic effects. Huffman was somewhat successful in his study – he developed a product that helped brain tumors and skin cancer in lab rats.
Huffman published these results, including instructions on how to manufacture them. According to Huffman, his instructions were so simple and only involved three major steps. Huffman did not understand that his publication would later result in a worldwide market for the drug.
What are the Ingredients in Artificial Cannabis?
Producers of artificial cannabis claim that it contains a blend of traditional medicinal herbs, each producing effects similar to those emanating from using natural cannabis. Some of the herbs listed on the packaging of synthetic cannabis include:
- Blue Egyptian water lily (Nymphaea caerulea)
- Coastal jack-bean (Canavalia maritime)
- Dwarf skullcap (Scutellaria nana)
- Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora)
- Honey weed (Leonurus sibricus)
- Lion’s tail (Zornia latifolia)
- Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)
However, analysis conducted by scientists in Germany reported that most of the compounds from the claimed plant components were not in the drug. Furthermore, the drug was reported to have high amounts of synthetic tocopherol.
According to this German based risk assessment of the product in 2008, it was unclear what plant ingredients were used, the source of the synthetic tocopherol, and whether the marijuana-like effects were elicited by any of the alleged plant ingredients or by a synthetic cannabis drug.
How Are Synthetic Cannabinoid Products Used?
Users of synthetic cannabinoids usually smoke the dried material that has been sprayed with the fake cannabinoids.
Sometimes, users blend the sprayed plant product with marijuana or take it as tea.
Others buy the product in its liquid form and utilize it in e-cigarettes.
Is it Illegal?
In the initial years of its inception, manufacturers produced it under packets stamped “not for human consumption” and marketed it as potpourri. As illness and use accelerated to alarming levels, states like Nebraska, New York, and New Hampshire started hunting manufacturers.
Although regulation has helped drive down the accessibility and use of the drug, it has not driven it out of the market. Manufacturers are constantly changing the compounds of the drug to avoid federal bans and regulations.
How do Synthetic Cannabinoids Affect the Brain?
A synthetic cannabinoid attaches itself to the same brain receptors affiliated with the mind altering THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) ingredient in the marijuana plant. The body consists of two kinds of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2.
The CB1 Receptors are found in the brain, but they also reside in the liver, lungs, and kidneys.
The CB2 Receptors are found in hematopoietic cells and the immune system. Hematopoietic cells give rise to blood cells found in the red bone marrow. The CBI receptor is where a consumer experiences the high, whereas CB2 receptors are associated with the effects-immune responses and nausea suppression.
While marijuana affects the CB1 receptors in your brain causing a euphoric high, fake cannabinoids also bind to these receptors but with a higher potency of 2-100 times that of THC.
Users of synthetic cannabinoid report effects that are similar to those experienced by marijuana consumers. These include:
- Elevated mood
- Altered perception
- Disordered or delusional thinking that is far from reality
Some of the psychotic effects include:
- Extreme anxiety
What are the Health Risks of Synthetic Cannabinoids?
Some of the severe effects experienced by consumers of fake cannabinoids include:
- Fast heart rate
- Suicidal thoughts
- Violent behavior
Synthetic marijuana also raises a person’s blood pressure and reduces the supply of blood to the heart. It is also associated with seizures and kidney damage. In some case, the use of this drug has resulted in fatalities.
Is it Addictive?
Synthetic marijuana is addictive. Regular consumers who try to quit experience withdrawal symptoms such as:
Synthetic Marijuana is often used by teens and young adults who are either experimenting with drugs for the first time or have a difficult time finding or affording real marijuana. Whatever the reason, it can be addictive and cause other additional problems.
It’s important for parents to know if their kids are using any kind of drugs. Learn more about tips for parents of children with addiction issues.