What’s In Synthetic Cannabis and Why Is It So Dangerous?


First things first, the products people refer to as synthetic cannabis not only do not contain cannabis, they don’t even contain synthetic cannabinoids. The synthetic compounds that the semi-illicit incense manufacturers spray onto random herbs were designed in research laboratories to bind to cannabinoid receptors, but have only a slight relation to natural THC. Doctors do not fully understand how most of these compounds interact with the body, and some can be extremely harmful and even deadly.

More aptly named synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRA), hundreds of these compounds have been synthesized in academic setting for research purposes, while some have broken into the semi-legal, but global market of “herbal incense.” In order to study the endocannabinoid system in the body scientists create SCRA’s that target cannabinoid receptors in different ways to see how cellular processes change. Some of these experiments occur in petri dishes, and other experiments use lab rats to test them, but almost none of these research chemicals have ever been tested on humans in controlled, medical settings.

If THC from marijuana targets cannabinoid receptors, and so do these compounds, then how are some of them so unsafe to the point of being deadly? It’s because THC is only a partial agonist of the two cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. This means THC only partially binds to your receptors, and doesn’t stay there for very long. SCRA’s are structurally designed to bind very strongly to the receptors and exert THC-like effects that can be 100 times more potent than the natural stuff. The unusually strong binding to cannabinoid receptors produces unforeseen downstream effects in the brain and nervous system like seizures, organ failure and cardiac arrest.

As research on medicinal cannabis continues, scientists continuously discover more intricate relationships between fundamental processes in the body and cannabinoid receptors. If you consume these any of these chemicals, you are literally performing an experiment on your body, and a dangerous one at that. People have suffered from seizures, cardiac arrest, kidney failure, severe reduction in body temperature, etc. and doctors don’t know how it happens or who is more susceptible.

Many different classes of these compounds exist: naphthoylindoles, naphthylmethylindoles, naphthoylpyrroles, naphthylmethylindenes, phenylacetylindoles, cyclohexylphenols, indazole-3-carboxamides, indole-3-carboxamides, benzimidazoles, etc. Each one of these general classes of compounds holds dozens of different related compounds. Regulatory agencies play a game of cat and mouse with designer drug manufacturers as they constantly use different compounds to bypass laws. The US federal government has been making different groups of SCRA’s illegal almost every year as forensic chemists discover more every time a casualty occurs, but underground Spice chemists are always one step ahead, and the newer compounds tend to more toxic and harmful than the previous generation.

Steer clear of these dangerous substances, treat them like dangerous addictive drugs on par with methamphetamine, ecstasy pills and prescription narcotics. This stuff is not weed, and when your friends smoke it you should confront them about it and make them understand they are putting their lives at risk. Even if you need to pass a drug test, don’t use this stuff; even one toke of Spice can land you in intensive care and put you on a dialysis machine with kidney failure.

Photo credit: Dayton Daily News

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