What is synthetic marijuana?

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Just recently, news came out that almost 120 people in Texas overdosed on a synthetic drug over a 5-day period. That’s roughly 24 people every day, or 1 every hour. This drug supposedly mimics the effect of marijuana. The drug is called K2.

K2, spice, Yucatan weed, skunk, moon rocks. These just some of the names associated with synthetic cannabis. But what is it really?

Birthed in the labs…

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) any of the above names can refer to a wide variety of herbal mixtures. They’re designed to produce experiences similar to cannabis, or marijuana. They’re generally marketed as “safe” and legal alternatives to pot.

These products contain dried, shredded plant material with chemical additives. Chemists created it to give users a high that is similar to weed. Unfortunately, the result is more psycho-active and mind-altering.

Many liken synthetic weed to Frankenstein’s monster. Both were developed in labs. In the case of “fake weed,” it’s made up of synthetic cannabinoid. The earliest was made in the late 1970’s. At the beginning, it was mainly for research and not for public consumption. It wasn’t until 2009 when it started being abused in the US.

Despite the many negative reports, though, synthetic pot has not been listed as an illegal drug. As such, vendors continue to sell them without fear of any legal repercussions. And it’s gaining popularity.

The Difference between Synthetic Weed and the Real Thing

Many people would argue that calling K2 “synthetic marijuana” isn’t even correct. Mainly because the product is technically not a copy of THC, marijuana’s active ingredient. It’s more of a mimic.

While both are smoked and able to produce a “high”, they’re also very different. How so?

Well, for one, the synthetic kind usually comes in small packets rather ironically labeled “not for human consumption.” Synthetic marijuana chemicals are harder to detect than weed in drug tests.

The Many Dangers of Synthetic Pot


More deadly than many realize (Image: Szapucki / CC BY)

Synthetic pot has hundreds of anonymous compounds making it up. Many of them have not even been identified yet. This is alarming because it’s also the 2nd most used illicit drug among high school seniors, just behind marijuana itself.

The lab-created chemicals sprayed on non-cannabis herbs are said to give a stronger high than THC. This could lead to seizures, hallucinations, convulsions and profoundly negative psychological effects. In fact, the overdose case in Texas led Dr. James d’Etienne of Baylor Medical Center in Dallas to say that, “several of [the patients] came in with similar symptoms of psychosis, altered mental status, abnormal behavior.”

John W. Huffman is the scientist credited for creating synthetic marijuana. He did it on a federal grant to study the effects of the drug on the brain’s receptors using lab animals. But even he doesn’t recommend that people actually ingest the compounds.

Huffman has been quoted as saying, “These things are dangerous,” and likened the use to playing Russian roulette.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates these synthetic cannabinoids are making Coloradans sicker. Why? Because they’re at least 100 times more potent than the naturally-occurring THC.

One package of synthetic weed can be vastly different from another. That’s because the way it’s mixed and sprayed, thin or thick, always affects the end results. The DEA fears that a lot of “human error” would mean two packets from the same lab could have totally different compounds. Thus, they’d also produce different effects on the human body.

And the incidents aren’t just limited to Texas. Just a year ago, there was also one in Wyoming. There’s been a couple of situations in Nebraska and also Georgia. The DEA fears it’s not just  legalization but the perception that “it’s okay.”

The DEA’s Barbra Roach cautions, “The smartest thing to do would be to stay away from anything that says it’s a spice or a mamba, which is also a generic term. Anything that says it’s a potpourri, “not for human consumption,” it all says that, but that’s just to try to divert it around the law.”

As Roach reiterates, “They’re all harmful, it’s just that some are extremely dangerous and deadly.”  One 17-year-old from Houston found this out the hard way. Emily Bauer had a large portion of her brain destroyed after smoking synthetic marijuana. If that sounds like a nightmare, it’s because it is. Emily can’t read or write. She’s now just relearning basic math. She has aides to help her eat, go to the restroom, read class material, and take down notes. She’s also partially blind.

Now doesn’t that sound like too much trouble in exchange for a short time being high?

Synthetic Marijuana – Synthetic Weed – Synthetic Cannabis

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1 Comment

  1. I recently kicked a 5 1/2 year synthetic marijuana habit. Actually the withdrawal symptoms are worse than the actual use itself. Using synthetic weed is most definitely a no no. It’s extremely additive. Not to mention very costly. Money and health wise. In fact one does not know what he’s getting from any particular purchase. However lately to enhance the high and to increase the sales. Dealers have been mixing such chemicals as bath salts and methamphetamine in the bags . Dangerously affecting users lives. As a chronic user who quit. I took several illnesses and trips in the ambulance to finally get me to realize that I was fighting a monster 👾. I’ve also developed C.O.P.D. Don’t use synthetic weed. Please it’s a killer. Most definitely.

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