What is Synthetic Cannabis?

What is Synthetic Cannabis?

As the name suggests, synthetic cannabinoids are a type of artificial drug that, when consumed, mimic some of the effects of the natural herbal drug cannabis. Synthetic cannabinoids can come in many different forms, and be consumed in different ways, but they are most commonly referred to by the umbrella term ‘spice’. Synthetic cannabinoids are a relatively new form of drug, and compared to other substances like their natural counterpart marijuana we understand the mechanisms of their potential dangers and addictive properties much less. However, these synthetic drugs tend to be much stronger and their effects more varied and unpredictable than even the strongest strains of natural cannabis.

For years, synthetic cannabinoids were marketed and sold online as a type of legal high, but in the UK they are now considered a Class B restricted drug, which means that possession could land users with a prison sentence of up to five years and an unlimited fine, whilst supplying the drug could see dealers facing up to fourteen years’ imprisonment(1).

How are Synthetic Cannabinoids Used?

Synthetic cannabinoids, like natural cannabis, are primarily consumed via smoking. The lab-made, mind-altering chemicals are usually sprayed onto dried, shredded plant material and then smoked. They can also be acquired in liquid form and vaporised in e-cigarettes or similar devices.

Is Synthetic Cannabis Dangerous?

These drugs are called synthetic cannabis precisely because they emulate many of the effects of the natural drug cannabis. Using synthetic cannabinoids can induce feelings of mild euphoria, making the consumer feel relaxed, elevating their mood and altering their perception in a way that many find pleasurable. Unfortunately, because of the relative newness of this kind of drug, there have been few scientific studies on the effects of synthetic cannabis on the human brain. It is known, however, that synthetic cannabinoids tend to bind more strongly to the brain receptors that process TBC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive component of cannabis) than natural marijuana(2). The resulting effects to the user’s health can be both unpredictable and dangerous.

Below are some of the physical and psychological health risks associated with the use of synthetic cannabis listed by NHS Inform (3):

  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Gastrointestinal issues, including vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Acute kidney injury
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Psychosis

Overdose Risks with Synthetic Cannabis

One of the most dangerous aspects of abusing synthetic cannabis is that the chemical composition of the drug can vary drastically from one batch to the next, and you can never be completely sure what you are consuming. You might smoke some spice one day and feel completely fine, experiencing only the pleasant, euphoric effects. You could then have a second hit and suffer debilitating side effects, or even drug poisoning. Spice and other cannabinoids have the potential to cause lethal or permanent life-altering health problems such as brain injury, liver failure, heart attacks and lung damage.

Synthetic cannabinoids can be addictive just like cannabis. Users can develop both a physical dependence, making them feel ill or in pain when the cannabinoids are flushed out of their system, and a psychological dependence, giving them strong cravings for the pleasurable effects induced by the drug when they haven’t had any for a while. Some of the more common withdrawal symptoms include headaches, difficulty concentrating, increased anxiety and irritability, restlessness, and intense cravings for more cannabinoids.

Addiction increases the risk of suffering harmful side effects or, in the worst case, a lethal overdose. It is always possible that you might get a bad batch, or have an adverse reaction, so consistent usage only gives you more chances to fall victim to drug poisoning.

Getting Help for a Spice Addiction

If you or someone you care about is suffering from an addiction to spice, it is important that you seek help as quickly as possible. Addictions are incredibly difficult to overcome alone, most sufferers fail to cope with the intense symptoms of withdrawal and slip straight back into substance abuse. But with spice, because of the unpredictability of the drug, every day counts. The longer you continue to abuse synthetic cannabis, the more likely it is that you will cause irreparable damage to your body.

The most effective way to overcome a spice addiction is to receive professional help. Like any substance addiction, a dependency on synthetic cannabis can be overcome with rehabilitation treatment. At a residential rehabilitation centre, you will be in a safe and regulated environment, away from the everyday stresses and triggers that may be fuelling your spice usage. You will have access to a dedicated detoxification clinic, where a team of medical and psychiatric staff will be on hand 24/7 to help guide you through the pain and discomfort of the withdrawal period. Should any acute emergencies arise, you will be in the safest of hands.

Once the cannabinoids are out of your system, it is important that you are able to stay clean. Quitting is only the first part of the battle, and you stand a much better chance of staying on the wagon if you have professional guidance. At a cannabis rehab, you can undergo a comprehensive course of holistic therapies, all intended to give you the tools and self-knowledge necessary to understand your dependency issues and avoid those tricky pitfalls moving forwards.

How We Can Help

Rehab Clinics Group is one of the leading private drug and alcohol rehab providers in the UK. We operate a network of trusted recovery centres across the country and have experience treating a wide range of different dependencies.

We understand that reaching out for help can be a difficult and daunting first step. Our admissions team are ready to answer any questions you might have about your addiction, and the rehabilitation process, and will ensure that you are enrolled on a course of treatment that is right for your individual needs. Get in touch today by telephone, email or live-chat, and begin your journey to recovery.

Sources of Information

1 https://www.gov.uk/penalties-drug-possession-dealing

2 https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cannabinoids-k2spice

3 https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/drugs-and-drug-use/common-drugs/synthetic-cannabinoids-spice