Synthetic cannabinoids – also known by many other names including synthetic marijuana, K2, and Spice – are toxic and illegal, with highly unpredictable effects. They are a type of new, “designer” drug, also known as novel psychoactive substances (NPS’s; others include “bath salts”). Synthetic cannabinoid products typically consist of plant material coated with man-made psychoactive chemicals, meant to mimic THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive chemical compound in cannabis.
Synthetic cannabinoid products are usually meant to be smoked, but can be ingested in other ways, such as eating or injecting them. There are many different strains of synthetic cannabinoids, which are constantly changing, and which can have unpredictable effects. Synthetic cannabinoids are much more potent than natural THC and are often mixed with many other chemicals (e.g., opioids, blood thinners, stimulants, etc.), making these products extremely dangerous. Synthetic cannabinoids may also be mixed into other drugs or sold as other drugs without the knowledge of dealers or users.
The risks associated with synthetic cannabinoids are even higher for teens and young adults, as their brains are still developing. These products are often marketed to kids as safe, legal, and/or natural. Even in small amounts, exposure to synthetic cannabinoids can be addictive, toxic, or even fatal.
Those who have ingested synthetic cannabinoids may experience hallucinations, paranoia, and other psychotic symptoms, suicidal thoughts or actions, aggressive behaviors, or confusion and sedation.
Other symptoms include:
- Agitation, anxiety, and/or panic
- High or low blood pressure
- Tremors and/or seizures
- Renal failure
- Chest pain or heart palpitations
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Loss of consciousness or death
It can be difficult for clinicians to know that someone has used synthetic cannabinoids, since they are often not readily detectable in laboratory tests such as urine drug screens.
In addition to being sold by street dealers, synthetic cannabinoids have also been found in drug paraphernalia stores, bodegas, gas stations, convenience stores, and similar retail establishments. Packaging may feature false claims that the contents are safe, natural, legal, or “not for human consumption.” They are also marketed online as home incense, potpourri, or “herbal” smoking blends.
How to Spot it
Synthetic cannabinoid product packaging typically features bright colors and cartoons or designs that may register as harmless and attract the attention of young people.
Synthetic cannabinoid products are commonly sold under the brands K2 or Spice, though they go by many other names. Other brand or street names include:
- Green Giant
- Wicked X
- Geeked Up
- Red Giant
- Keisha Kole
- Scoobie Snacks
- 24-Karat Dream
- Yucatan Fire
What to do
- Talk to your loved ones about addiction, substance use, and designer drugs. Explain that “synthetic marijuana” is not the same as natural marijuana and it can be deadly.
- If you are aware of locations where these products are being manufactured, sold, or distributed, please call the Synthetic Drug Hotline at 1-888-99-SALTS (1-888-997-2587) and tell your local law enforcement, to help us get synthetic cannabinoids off the streets. Calls to the hotline can be made anonymously.
- If someone is acting strangely or erratically, having difficulty breathing, or exhibiting other life-threatening symptoms, don't hesitate to call 911.
- If you suspect someone has used synthetic marijuana, contact the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.