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The dangers of synthetic cannabis

Synthetic cannabinoids
Synthetic cannabinoids

What is it?

Synthetic cannabinoids are chemicals produced to mimic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) –  the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis.

This is a growing trend where a number of man-made mind-altering chemicals are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices.

The drug is commonly marketed under brand names like Spice and Mamba.

How did the drug come about?

Spice was invented accidentally by an organic chemist called John Huffmann at Clemson University in South Carolina, USA.

Huffmann was searching for a new way of developing anti-inflammatory medication which happened to involve the creation of hundreds of synthetic types of cannabis including one called JWH-018.

In 2006, Hoffman stated that his invention was unfit for human consumption, however backstreet labs started to manufacture the chemical a few years on and advertize it on websites.

How widespread is usage of the drug?

Spice is popular among students and young people, homeless people, hard drug users and a large section of the prison population in the UK.

The drug is popular because it is cheap and strong but easy to access from a variety of places.

Furthermore, it is hard to regulate as any new law against this form of cannabis is thwarted by backstreet technicians with simple modifications to create a ‘new’ but similar drug.

What are the effects?

The synthetic cannabinoids are so-called because they are related to chemicals found in the marijuana plant. Significantly, synthetic cannabinoids react more strongly with the brain’s cannabis receptors so they’re more potent than natural cannabis and the chemicals can be as much as 40 to 600 times more potent than THC in cannabis.

A study by Heather Clayton from the University of Texas found that:

Synthetic cannabis encourages risky behaviour more so than marijuana.

Students who had tried spice were more likely to have tried alcohol, heroin and ecstasy.

Users of synthetic cannabinoid were also reported to be more involved in more physical fights.

Another study, published in Pediatrics, assessed 964 students who had completed surveys on their use of marijuana, synthetic cannabis, alcohol and other drugs:

Reported effects include convulsions, shortness of breath, kidney failure and cardiac arrest, as well as hallucinations and irreparable damage to the user’s mental health.

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