Synthetic cannabinoids (SCBs) are a group of manufactured chemicals that are designed to produce the effects of cannabis. By binding with the same cannabinoid receptors in the body as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), these man-made substances are able to produce the same effect as this psychoactive ingredient found naturally in the cannabis plant.
There are several different types of SCB produced today with new ones continually being created. Semi-synthetic cannabinoids such as HHC are also created where small modifications are made to the structure of THC to refine or improve its effects. If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘What is HHC?’, in this article, we will look more closely into synthetic cannabinoids, discussing their potential benefits as well as risks.
Common SCB Names
SCBs are commonly sold under numerous names which include the following:
- Amsterdam Gold
- Black Mamba
- Blue Cheese
- Bombay Blue Extreme
- Clockwork Orange
- Devil’s Weed
- Exodus Damnation
- Mary Joy
- Tai High Hawaiian Haze
How is Synthetic Cannabis Produced?
Most synthetic cannabinoids are produced in overseas laboratories and shipped to manufacturers in powder form where they are then prepared using various solvents. This solution is then sprayed onto shredded plant material, soaking it and leaving it to dry.
The end result is SCB, however, due to the lack of regulation or any quality control throughout this process the amount of SCB in each batch and, therefore, its potency, can vary considerably resulting in ‘hot spots’ or extremely high concentrations in certain batches which can lead to dangerous side effects.
How are SCBs Used?
SCBs are typically smoked as herbal mixtures or brewed as a tea. They also come in powder or tablet forms as well as products that are similar to cannabis resin. It has become common in recent years for SCBs to be sold as e-liquids for vaping and as invisibly impregnated paper.
As the debate regarding the use of SCBs for medical purposes continues, there is a case for further research and the development of strict legislation and regulation to curb any abuse or toxic effects, as well as enhance the medicinal benefits and usage. Currently, there are two FDA-approved drugs that are made from synthetically derived cannabinoids, namely Nabilone and Dronabinol.
The Effects of SCBs
The effects of SCBs can vary from person to person and will also depend on the potency of the product. While most people take SCBs for their mood-enhancing or relaxation effects, for many people the experience is less desirable and even harmful. Some of the common effects reported by SCB users include:
- Elevated mood or euphoria
- Altered perception
- Symptoms of psychosis
- Panic attacks
- Mood swings
- Hot flushes
- Excessive sweating
SCBs can also be toxic resulting in people being hospitalized for symptoms including rapid heart rate, vomiting, hallucinations and confusion. They have also been known to induce tremors, fits and seizures in some people.
Are SCBs Safe to Use?
While SCBs can be beneficial in certain contexts such as their applications in pharmaceutical drugs like Nabilone, they do pose risks when taken outside of this environment. As the human body does not recognize SCBs they are not always tolerated or processed properly leading to kidney damage or seizures.
Many SCBs are similar in structure to the naturally occurring chemical serotonin which is produced in the brain. Studies have found there to be a link between SCBs and the overproduction of serotonin in the body. Known as ‘serotonin syndrome’, this potentially life-threatening condition can cause high fever, sweating, convulsions, high blood pressure and heart rate, organ failure, and in some cases, can be fatal if not treated in time. In particular serotonin syndrome and ‘spice’ intoxication have been found to have signs and symptoms that may overlap with one another.
The risk of overstimulating serotonin in the body also increases the risk posed from mixing SCBs with other chemicals such as antidepressants and other medications which affect serotonin levels in the body. This includes many common antidepressant drugs such as Prozac, Norpramin and Tofranil, migraine medications like Frova and Maxalt as well as herbal supplements like St John’s wort, ginseng and Syrian rue that can affect serotonin levels.
Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid, tryptophan, which is naturally contained in many foods such as turkey, chicken, pork, red meat, tofu, fish, oatmeal, beans, milk, nuts, and eggs. Taken as a dietary supplement, tryptophan can also lead to serotonin syndrome when mixed with SCBs.
Without proper testing and oversight it is not always possible to know the potency of the product being purchased nor the other chemicals that have been added during the manufacturing process. While some SCBs have been shown to pose health risks, especially when mixed with other drugs, many users do report positive benefits from using SCBs such as elevated mood and relaxation.