What Is Synthetic Marijuana (K2/Spice)? | Effects & Risks

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on August 19, 2023

Synthetic cannabinoids are illicit man-made designer drugs similar to THC but far more potent, harmful, and unpredictable. Despite widespread covert use in Ohio, these drugs are associated with serious side effects as well as life-threatening medical emergencies.

Synthetic cannabinoids are dangerous synthetic drugs with psychoactive effects that are more intense, unpredictable, and hazardous than marijuana itself. 

In Ohio, all synthetic drugs, including synthetic cannabinoids, are illegal.

What Are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Also known as K2, Spice, fake weed, or synthetic marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids are products that use man-made active ingredients chemically similar to the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is found in cannabis. 

Like THC, these drugs act as agonists for cannabinoid receptors in the body, triggering a wide range of different effects. However, some synthetic cannabinoids are estimated to be around 100 times more powerful.

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)

Synthetic cannabinoids may also be referred to as designer drugs or new psychoactive substances (NPS), a broad category of new and unpredictable drugs produced in covert drug labs and smuggled across international borders. 

NPSs are uniformly classified as Schedule I illicit substances with no valid medical use. However they can be difficult to detect using standard drug testing.

Synthetic Cannabinoid Products

Synthetic cannabinoids are either sold as liquids and vaporized using e-cigarettes, or else sprayed on blends of dried, shredded plant material. 

Often sold as potpourri or herbal incense, packed in colorful foil packaging, given unique brand names like Skunk, Black Mamba, Genie, and Yucatan Fire, and marked “not for human consumption,” the drugs are distributed with the express intent of avoiding law enforcement detection.

In the past, they have been widely sold in drug paraphernalia shops, novelty stores, gas stations, and over the internet, and efforts to curtail these substances are ongoing.

Effects Of Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids act on the same brain cell receptors as THC. But because a variety of different synthetic cannabinoids have been produced and the dosage a person receives when using them can vary, the effects of these substances can be very unpredictable.

Reported effects and side effects of synthetic cannabinoids have included:

  • elevated mood
  • feelings of relaxation
  • giddiness
  • altered perceptions
  • hallucinations
  • anxiety or panic attacks
  • delusions
  • agitation and violent behavior
  • unusual suicidal thoughts
  • zombie-like disassociation
  • tachycardia, or elevated heart rate
  • nausea and vomiting

These effects may also occur more severely depending on an individual’s mindset, dosage, internal body chemistry, and use of other medications or substances of abuse, including alcohol.

Synthetic Cannabinoid Overdose

An excessive dose of synthetic cannabinoids can cause extremely distressing or dangerous adverse reactions and health risks. And because of the potency of these novel drugs, accidental overdoses can occur, potentially triggering:

  • toxic reactions
  • elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • stroke or heart attack
  • kidney damage
  • severe vomiting
  • seizures
  • psychosis and disturbing paranoia, delusions, and delusions

Can Synthetic Cannabinoids Kill?

While cannabinoids of any type rarely generate life-threatening effects, deaths have been reported when other harmful drugs, especially the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl, have been laced into synthetic cannabis or taken knowingly at the same time.

In addition, there have been occasions where large numbers of individuals in certain areas have experienced severe but delayed medical emergencies due to toxic products added to these drugs, including substances used as rat poison. 

These public health emergencies have led to lengthy hospitalizations, extensive and expensive medical treatment, and loss of life.

How Addictive Are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Some synthetic cannabinoids are believed to have a higher potential for addiction than cannabis itself, meaning that some people who take the drugs will develop behavioral changes, cravings, and compulsions related to their increasing drug use.

Individuals who use these substances chronically may also develop some degree of physical dependence over time. This can lead to the development of any number of chronic health effects, as well as uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms after discontinuation.

These withdrawal effects can include:

  • feelings of illness or discomfort
  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • irritability
  • drug cravings

Synthetic Cannabinoid Addiction Treatment

While these substances are still unusual and poorly understood, drug abuse and addiction related to use of synthetic cannabinoid products can still be treated with the same methods developed for other forms of substance use disorder.

This means that each participant will work with a healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan designed to best meet their behavioral and mental health needs. 

To learn how Ohio Recovery Center treats addictions to synthetic cannabinoids and other NPSs on an inpatient basis, please contact us today.

  1. Ars Technica https://arstechnica.com/science/2022/10/florida-tokers-inadvertently-smoked-rat-poison-52-sickened-4-dead/
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hsb/chemicals/sc/About.html
  3. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/sites/getsmartaboutdrugs.com/files/publications/DoA_2017Ed_Updated_6.16.17.pdf
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cannabinoids-k2spice
  5. Ohio Attorney General https://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/FAQ/Synthetic-Drug-FAQs

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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