Synthetic cannabis — which, more on this later, is not a cannabis product — has once again popped up and reared its ugly head. On Tuesday, the designer drug was responsible for hospitalizing 33 people in Brooklyn. A witness who watched three people collapse on his way to work described what he saw to the New York Times as “like a scene out of a zombie movie, a horrible scene.” 

Synthetic cannabis, which goes by the names K2 and Spice, among others, is generally labeled “Not for human consumption.” Yet people still continue to smoke the substance, in large part because it’s widely available and generally legal (which cannabis, of course, isn’t). As authorities work to outlaw one version, chemical architects introduce other varieties that can be sold legally.

Despite producers’ claims, the ingredients found in packets of Spice aren’t at all like cannabis.

 What Is Synthetic Marijuana and Why Is It Dangerous?

Spice is composed of synthetic chemicals that, yes, act like some of the compounds found in cannabis. As such, the effects can mirror some of marijuana’s euphoric and time-dilating properties. The problem is this: K2, Spice, or whatever it’s called can also cause a ton of unpredictable consequences. Headaches, agitation, vision loss, sweating, vomiting, increased heart rate, paranoia, hallucinations, and seizures are just some of the side effects. 

So why’s it called “synthetic cannabis” at all? As we’ve written before, the chemicals in Spice affect a person’s endocannabinoid system — just not in the same way cannabis does

While these compounds [in synthetic cannabis] may bind to the same receptor sites in the brain as THC, we often see starkly different effects because they can: (a) bind far more strongly than the phytocannabinoids in cannabis, and (b) contain other residual ingredients and chemicals that are definitely not safe to smoke. This chemistry may explain why use and cessation of synthetic cannabinoids is also linked to severe addictive and psychotic symptoms that are not seen with natural cannabis.

Synthetic cannabis can take a tragic toll on users. And to think, these products became popular because of a failed war on drugs and fear-mongering over natural cannabis.

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