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  • Writer's pictureDahlia Foundation

Synthetic cannabinoids

How you might feel Happy, relaxed, talkative and/or anxious, paranoid, sedated.

Effects on your bodyEffects are similar to cannabis but stronger. Side effects can include nausea and mood swings. Also, sweating and tingly feelings in fingers and toes. Loss of muscle coordination.

Common risksEasy to want more and take larger doses. Mental health can get worse. Psychotic episodes can be triggered, usually in those already susceptible, and last for weeks.

Physical health risks

The risks of synthetic cannabinoids are similar to natural cannabis, but because synthetic cannabinoids are more potent, it is easy to use too much and experience the unpleasant and harmful effects. This higher potency also means that the effects may last for longer. Also, because many synthetic cannabinoids are new, they may have unknown effects too. We know that there have been a number of deaths that have been associated with the use of synthetic cannabinoids, either on their own or with other substances. There may also be risks from smoking the plant material itself – as occurs with tobacco and cannabis smoking. Reported side-effects from using synthetic cannabinoids include:

  • feelings of lightheadedness, dizziness, confusion and tiredness

  • feeling excited, agitated and aggressive

  • mood swings

  • anxiety and paranoia

  • suicidal thoughts

  • memory problems and amnesia

  • nausea and vomiting

  • hot flushes

  • increased heart rate and blood pressure, which may cause chest pains and damage your heart and even cause a heart attack

  • excessive sweating

  • fingers, toes or muscles feel numb and tingly

  • tremors, seizures and fits

Other risks for synthetic cannabinoids:

  • Research suggests that they may be an association between using synthetic cannabinoids and acute kidney injury.

  • Many synthetic cannabinoids have a chemical structure that is similar to serotonin, a natural chemical found in the body. It’s been suggested that there’s a risk that synthetic cannabinoids could overstimulate the serotonin system (called serotonin syndrome), which can result in high fever, rapid pulse, sweating, agitation, confusion, convulsions, organ failure, coma and even death.

  • Because of the way that smoking mixtures are made, there can be differences in the concentration of synthetic cannabinoids in individual packets and between different batches. You can never be 100% sure of how powerful a dose you are going to take.

Mental health risks

  • Synthetic cannabinoids are more likely to be associated with hallucinations than natural cannabis, possibly because of their potency.

  • Use of synthetic cannabinoids can cause psychotic episodes, which in extreme cases could last for weeks.

  • Regular use could cause a relapse of mental health illness or increase the risk of developing a mental illness, especially if you have a family history of mental illness.

What is synthetic cannabinoids cut with?

Synthetic cannabinoids are usually sold in 'herbal' smoking mixtures. Sometimes these smoking mixtures have been found not to contain any synthetic cannabinoids at all! Any dried herbs, vegetable matter or plant cuttings can be mixed or sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids to make smoking mixtures. A number of different plants are often listed on the packaging of smoking mixtures, but these might not actually be present in the mixture. It's also possible that the dried herbs, vegetable matter or plant cuttings themselves may produce an unwanted effect or be covered in a toxic substance, such as a pesticide, or there may be residues of the solvents, such as acetone and methanol, used in the mixing/spraying process, remaining on the smoking mixture.

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