Synthetic Cannabinoids

Hannah Parrott

Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Synthetic cannabinoids (SCBs) are also known as synthetic marijuana, and are chemicals that include hundreds of forms of chemicals that are sprayed onto plant material. They were originally created by a professor at Clemson named John W Huffman, who created them while doing research in 1993. This chemical was later replicated in large scale operations starting in 2008 and 2009 (Neyfakh). Most of the chemicals found in SCBs (the active ingredients) are produced in commercial labs in China, and then the chemicals are sprayed on plant material in the US (Featherstone).

Other names of synthetic cannabinoids include: K2, Spice, Bliss, Cowboy, Kush, Scooby Snax, among hundreds of other names (Neyfakh).

How Are They Used In Medicine? How Do They Interact With Other Substances?

SCBs aren't used in medicine. However when they interact with other substances, they can cause a multitude of additional problems, so they're really bad for people who are already addicted to other substances. Side effects worsen and make it harder to treat when people use SCBs with both legal and illegal substances (Van Pelt).

How are they administered?

Chemicals in SCBs are usually sprayed onto plant material so they can be consumed in a joint and smoked, similar to marijuana, soldin small foil packets. The drug is cheap- a five gram bag costs $10, which is often later divided and sold into $1 or $2 units, making it very popular with the homeless and those in poverty (Featherstone).

Physical and psychological effects? Affects on neurotransmission? Long term and short term effects?

The receptors that THC and SCBs use are the same, but SCBs are related to more hospital visits and higher toxicity than marijuana. This is most likely because SCBs are direct agonists of receptors, while THC (the active chemical in marijuana) is a partial agonist (Mills).

Highs depend on which chemical consumed, but may include any of the following:

  • Catatonia
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomitting
  • Elevated heartbeat
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Seizure
  • Hallucination


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have linked SCBs to acute kidney failure (Neyfakh), though other long term effects aren't known yet as the drug is fairly recent (Featherstone).

Big image

Length of Effects?

Highs vary depending on which chemical is consumed, but the high can be as short as two minutes to as long as six hours (Featherstone).


The number of emergency room visited related to SCBs is increasing according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: the 28,531 ER visits in 2011 represented a two and half times increase in the amount of visits in 2010 (Neyfakh). SCBs are easy to abuse, as well (Synthetic).

People who have used too much SCB act weirdly. For example, a paramedic treating an unconscious man had the man unlatch himself from a gurney and crouch on it while growling at the paramedic before jumping off the gurney, out the ambulance and into the street. Additionally, when new forms of chemicals are released, there tends to be a surge of overdoses following it.

In the ER, when patients are being treated for SCBs, they need so many sedatives that they aren't able to breath and need intubiation, though throughout the entire process, they struggle violently.Addicts claim SCBs are addictive, though they are no studies to prove that (Featherstone).

Synthetic Drug Revolution: VICE on HBO Debrief (Episode 5)

Watch Host Hamilton Morris Debrief Our HBO Episode About Dangerous Synthetic Drugs. Vice. Vice, 11 Apr. 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2016. <>.

Social Concerns? Laws?

The main reason that people use SCBs is that it can't be detected on drug tests (the other reason being that it's extremely cheap), making it popular with athletes, parolees, and soldiers, who can use it without failing their drug tests. The government tries to prosecute drug creators and distributers, but they can just change the chemical formula slightly to have the drug remain legal. Often times, the government uses the Federal Analogue Act of 1986, which allows the government to prosecute drugs that are "substantially similar" in their effects and in chemical composition to Schedule I and II substances. But this can be fairly difficult to prosecute, because it's subjective. Because it's hard for the governemnt demonstrate using it or creating it is illegal, it makes the drug cheaper and more easy to get access to (Neyfakh).

People who use SCBs and generally end up in hospitals are often homeless, poor, have mental problems, or have used SCBs for months or years- and buy SCBs knowing that it's a dangerous drug. Because many SCBs aren't illegal, some stores can sell it openly. Occasionally local officials can charge stores selling it with reckless endangerment, which would put them in jail for a year, but they usually can't do more. Some corner stores will even sell SCBs to children under a code word. All packets of SCBs say "not for human consumption" to further remove responsibility from the manufacturer (Featherstone).

Support Systems?

Addicts can go to drug rehabilitation centers where they can do detox programs, like one at Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare

These programs face many challenges in treating SCB addictions, since the drug a patient could be on could be completely unknown. They can treat people with SCB to some degree, but often don’t even know what someone is high on because most SCBs aren’t detected in drug tests. Treatment centers face many challenges in dealing with the drug, because they have limited abilities to deal with the drug (Wong).

Works Cited

Works Cited

Featherstone, Steve. “Spike Nation.” New York Times Magazine 8 July 2015: n. pag. Print.

Mills, B., A. Yepes, and K. Nugent. Synthetic Cannabinoids. N.p.: National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2015. Print.

Neyfakh, Leon. “What Is the Deal With Synthetic Marijuana?” Slate: n. pag. Print.

“Synthetic Cannabinoids.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. US Department of Health & Human Services, n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2016. <>.

Van Pelt, Jennifer. “Synthetic Drugs- Fake Substances, Real Dangers.” Social Work Today July-Aug. 2012: n. pag. Print.

Wang, Hansi Lo. “Surge In Use of ‘Synthetic Marijuana’ Still One Step Ahead of the Law.” National Public Radio. N.p., 11 Nov. 2015. Web. 7 Apr. 2016. <>.

Watch Host Hamilton Morris Debrief Our HBO Episode About Dangerous Synthetic Drugs. Vice. Vice, 11 Apr. 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2016. <>.