Synthetic Cannabinoids ("Spice", "K2", etc.)

A host of herbal products, known by such names as “K2” or “Spice” intended to simulate the psychoactive effects of marijuana, have generated concern among media and policymakers.  Synthetic cannabinoid products were virtually unknown until news media reported their presence at tobacco and novelty shops.  People appear to have starting using synthetic marijuana to evade drug tests – and it caught on once news reports publicized its existence.  

President Obama  and all 50 state governors  have signed legislation criminalizing various forms of synthetic marijuana. Yet enterprising chemists have discovered an endless array of marijuana-like chemicals that can be sprayed onto potpourri-like plant matter and sold as "incense" to circumvent the ban. 

Synthetic cannabinoids do not appear to be of much interest to youth in the U.S.  People who have tried them often report psychoactive effects that are comparable to marijuana, but notably less pleasurable. In fact, a 2013 global study found that over 90 percent of people surveyed who use synthetic cannabinoid products strongly prefer natural marijuana  – suggesting that if marijuana were legally available, then demand for synthetic cannabinoids would largely disappear.

These substances are generally far more harmful than marijuana ever could be. For example, a team of state public health department officials, poison control centers and CDC researchers identified 16 cases of acute kidney injury related to synthetic marijuana in six states (Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, New York, Rhode Island and Wyoming).  Synthetic cannabinoid use has been associated with thousands of poisonings and hospitalizations,  and deaths attributable to synthetic marijuana have increased – in recent years.

More info: Get DPA's fact sheet on synthetic drugs (PDF).


Sources

Vardakou, I., Pistos, C. & Spiliopoulou, C. “Spice drugs as a new trend: Mode of action, identification and legislation,” Toxicology Letters, 197, no. 3 (2010): 157-62.

See, e.g., Sarah Wire, “Cops: Imitation Pot as Bad as the Real Thing,” The Associated Press, February 17, 2010; Steve Featherstone, "Spike Nation: Cheap, Unpredictable and Hard to Regulate, Synthetic Marijuana Has Emergency Responders Scrambling to Save Lives.," New York Times Magazine, July 8 2015.

Dina Perrone, Randi D. Helgesen, and Ryan G. Fischer, "United States Drug Prohibition and Legal Highs: How Drug Testing May Lead Cannabis Users to Spice," Drugs: Education, Prevention, and Policy (2012).

Included in this legislation were various other new synthetics, including: 4-methylmethcathinone (Mephedrone); 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV); 2-(2,5-Dimethoxy-4-ethylphenyl); ethanamine (2C-E); 2-(2,5-Dimethoxy-4-methylphenyl)ethanamine (2C-D); 2-(4-Chloro-2,5-dimethoxyphenyl)ethanamine (2C-C); 2-(4-Iodo-2,5-dimethoxyphenyl)ethanamine (2C-I); 2-[4-(Ethylthio)-2,5-dimethoxyphenyl]ethanamine (2C-T-2); 2-[4-(Isopropylthio)-2,5-dimethoxyphenyl]ethanamine (2C-T-4); 2-(2,5-Dimethoxyphenyl)ethanamine (2C-H); 2-(2,5-Dimethoxy-4-nitro-phenyl)ethanamine (2C-N); (28) 2-(2,5-Dimethoxy-4-(n)-propylphenyl)ethanamine (2C-P),  http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/s3187/text.

National Conference of State Legislatures, (2015), http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/justice/synthetic-drug-threats.aspx

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, "New Psychoactive Substance in Europe: Innovative Legal Responses," (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2015).

Joseph J. Palamar and Patricia Acosta, "Synthetic Cannabinoid Use in a Nationally Representative Sample of Us High School Seniors," Drug and Alcohol Dependence 149(2015); Johnston et al., Monitoring the Future (2015).

A. R. Winstock and M. J. Barratt, "Synthetic Cannabis: A Comparison of Patterns of Use and Effect Profile with Natural Cannabis in a Large Global Sample," Drug Alcohol Depend (2013).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Acute Kidney Injury Associated with Synthetic Cannabinoid Use—Multiple States, 2012,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 62(6): 93-98, 2012, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/wk/mm6206.pdf; Gautam Kantilal Bhanushali et al., "Aki Associated with Synthetic Cannabinoids: A Case Series," Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology 8, no. 4 (2013).

Palamar and Acosta, "Synthetic Cannabinoid Use in a Nationally Representative Sample of Us High School Seniors; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, "Update: Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits Involving Synthetic Cannabinoids," (Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014).

Max Kutner, "Synthetic Marijuana Deaths Tripled This Year," Newsweek, June 11 2015.

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