Spice, K-2, Yucatan Fire, Bliss, Blaze, and Moon Rocks are some of the names used to refer to synthetic cannabis. This chemical was first made by chemists for research purposes, but more and more people are abusing it and ending up experiencing many negative side effects that would not occur with natural marijuana.


These products can be dangerous, because the term “synthetic” or “fake” can often mislead people into believing they are safe alternatives. In reality, they can affect the brain more powerfully than marijuana, and can be quite unpredictable.


Synthetic cannabis was created with the intent to bind the CB1 receptor in the brain, similar to how THC works in marijuana. The problem when this happens with synthetic weed is it becomes a full agonist rather than a partial agonist (like THC). The difference between a partial and full agonist on the CB1 receptor is enough to drastically change the physical effects. Synthetic weed can also be up to one hundred times more potent than THC, meaning it takes much less of the drug to create an effect. CB1 receptors are located all over the brain,  thus creating more chance for the drug to spread throughout different areas. Some of these areas include the hippocampus, temporal cortex, prefrontal cortex, and brainstem. These areas of the brain are responsible for memory, seizures, psychosis, and other cardiac, respiratory, and gastrointestinal effects.


Marijuana is an interesting drug because of its lack of lethal overdose risk. Every once in awhile users may have a bad experience from a marijuana high, but no one has ever died from an overdose. People who use marijuana generally are mellow, interactive, and funny, while people who use too much synthetic weed end up agitated, angry, and sweaty, much like users of amphetamines.


A possibility of why the synthetic drug affects people in a more negative way is the fact that our brains do not understand how to deactivate the drug. Usually, the body will deactivate a drug as it is metabolized, but this is not true with synthetics. Another reason could be the lack of cannabidiol, which is naturally-occurring in marijuana. This compound is non-psychoactive and has been found to dull some of the detrimental actions of THC.


Synthetic marijuana is impossible to control. It’s made often in labs in China, where there is no quality control over the product. No one knows exactly how potent certain strands are, or even individual packets. This is dangerous because no one can tell how concentrated the drug is until it’s too late.


Many people believe decriminalizing natural marijuana would help control this epidemic of synthetic marijuana abuse. Jeff Lapoint, MD, says the synthetic “was never intended to be used in people…It even says on the label, ‘Not for human consumption…’ This is not marijuana. It should not be thought of as marijuana.”


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