cannabis flower

What Are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

One important distinction to make when investigating cannabis and cannabis-based products is the difference between natural cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids. These substances, although similar in some ways, differ vastly in other ways. In this article, we delve into the differences between these two substances.

What are synthetic cannabinoids?

Whilst plant-based cannabis is naturally occurring, synthetic cannabinoids are not found naturally in the cannabis plant, but rather are chemicals that are designed to act like THC.

However, while synthetic cannabinoids are made to mimic the activity of THC, making a lot of the effects of the substance similar to those experienced when using a product containing regular THC, because they are full agonists at cannabinoid receptors with biologically active metabolites’, they are actually far more potent that naturally occurring THC. This means that it’s much easier to experience negative side effects as a result of taking too much of the substance, particularly if the user is unaware of how much stronger synthetic cannabinoids are compared to plant-based cannabis.

Additionally, as synthetic cannabinoids are often sold in unknown ‘herbal’ mixes, the effects garnered by such mixtures are entirely unknown and vary wildly from case to case. What should also be taken into account is that the dried plants and herbs in the mix alongside the synthetic cannabinoids may themselves produce harmful effects due to residue of pesticides or solvents still being present in their make-up, which can be highly dangerous when smoked.

Aside from smoking, synthetic cannabinoids can also be eaten with food and drinks or mixed into a liquid which can be vaped via e-cigarette.

The law around synthetic cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are classed as psychoactive substances so fall under the Psychoactive Substances Act (2016), meaning it is illegal to sell or give away such drugs – although typically possession of the substance will not be penalised (unless the person in possession is in prison). The production and supply of synthetic cannabinoids can elicit an unlimited fine or even up to 7 years in prison.

For more information on CBD, THC and other cannabinoids and constituents of the cannabis plant, take a look at our evidence base, a ground-breaking systematic review of the history of research in this area and a global first-of-its-kind searchable database for clinical referencing.

The rest of our comprehensive resources on medical cannabis are available on our website.

We strongly urge anyone considering the use of medical cannabis products to consult with a trained medical professional prior to beginning use.

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