Can Synthetic Cannabinoids Be Dangerous?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) issues drug related alerts to inform citizens and public officials about information pertaining to dangerous and lethal drugs. One such recent alert from came from New York City where health officials issued an advisory about the adverse effects of synthetic cannabinoids. Over a three-day period in July 2016, 130 people were taken to emergency rooms after suspected ingestion of these drugs.

Synthetic cannabinoids can be called “fake weed” or “herbal incense.” They are chemically related to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids, however, may be much more powerful with unpredictable effects that, in some cases, have caused death. In New York City, some users of these cannabinoids experienced overdoses that resembled opioid overdoses. The symptoms in some cases included lethargy and suppressed breathing. Other cases involved people who were agitated and exhibited violent behavior. These symptoms, along with the increase in emergency room admissions, suggested that the K2/Spice products circulating in the New York City at that time could have been laced with other toxic chemicals.

Synthetic cannabinoids are included in among a group of drugs called new psychoactive substances (NPS). These are unregulated and mind-altering substances that have recently become available and are being sold on the market with the intention to copy the effects of illegal drugs.

Manufacturers sell these herbal incense products in colorful foil packages and sell similar liquid incense products, like other e-cigarette fluids, in plastic bottles. They market these products under a wide variety of specific brand names; in past years, K2 and Spice were common. Hundreds of other brand names now exist, such as Joker, Black Mamba, Kush, and Kronic.

According to NIDA, synthetic cannabinoid mixtures have been bought in drug paraphernalia shops, novelty stores, gas stations, and through the Internet. SInce the chemicals used in them have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, officials have made the sale of them illegal, as well as that of buying or possessing some of the chemicals. However, manufacturers are like candles on a birthday cake that are made not to blow out. As soon as laws are in place, the manufacturers make changes in the chemical formulas. Another delima to combatting their use is that standard drug tests cannot easily detect many of the chemicals used in the synthetic cannabinoids.

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”—George Bernard Shaw

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