Cannabis has long been one of the most widely used psychoactive substances in the world. According to a 2021 survey by the Gallup consulting company, 49% of American adults have tried weed at least once. Though cannabis is popular, some people cannot afford it. It is also still illegal in some parts of the U.S. Because of this, some people have turned to “fake weed” products from brands such as Spice and K2. It is also popular among people that get drug tested regularly, as standard drug tests do not detect synthetic cannabinoids. These brands might promise a cheap and legal high. But what they don’t tell you on the packaging is that synthetic weed can cause a range of symptoms, from anxiety and nausea to severe internal bleeding and death.
In the early days of synthetic weed, gas stations and smoke shops across the country sold these products. However, most synthetic cannabis sales are over the internet now because the government has been cracking down on it more. Manufacturers of Spice/K2 usually package it in shiny resealable pouches that deceptively brand the product as incense or potpourri. The package usually includes a disclaimer that the contents are “not for human consumption.”
Synthetic weed may seem like a good option if you’re strapped for cash or get drug tested at work. However, experts agree that the term “synthetic weed” isn’t accurate. These substances are called synthetic weed because they activate the same parts of your brain as cannabis. Therefore, scientists classify them as “synthetic cannabinoids.” But these products are nothing like real marijuana. For one, synthetic cannabinoids are more potent than THC. The potency of these chemicals ranges from 2 to 100 times more potent than THC. There is no way to control dosing with these products. Synthetic weed is usually sold as “not for human consumption.” This means there are no dosage guidelines on the package, and no way to tell how much of the active ingredient you’re consuming.
Another dosing issue with these products has to do with the way they’re made. Manufacturers of fake weed spray synthetic cannabinoids over a mixture of herbs or other plant material. This leads to an uneven distribution of chemical over the mixture. So not only does a person have no idea how potent the product is, but can’t be sure how potent it will be from one use to the next.
Many people are under the mistaken belief that fake weed is legal. The chemicals used might not be formally “illegal”. But this results from chemicals being altered regularly to skirt around new laws prohibiting synthetic cannabinoids. Once a particular chemical is made illegal, synthetic cannabis producers will alter it to make it a new, “legal” chemical. Synthetic weed products are only “legal” because manufacturers alter chemicals so quickly that legislation cannot keep up. Once the government discovers new synthetic cannabinoids, they are often classified as Schedule 1 substances because of the immediate dangers they present to consumers. Therefore, while certain batches of fake weed might be “legal,” this does not mean that they are safe or that you might not land yourself in legal trouble for using them.
Perhaps the most important distinctions between real weed and synthetic cannabis products is the fact that the latter often contains toxic chemicals. In 2018, synthetic weed put many Illinois residents in the hospital with complaints, including nosebleeds, easy bruising, and oozing gums. These symptoms were because of brodifacoum (an anticoagulant found in rat poison) in the product. More recently, 41 Florida residents were hospitalized for severe bleeding after smoking synthetic weed, 2 of whom have since died. The products these people consumed were also laced with chemicals from rat poison. Hopefully, this information is enough to dissuade even the most resolute from trying these dangerous designer drugs.
When people choose to use synthetic weed for financial or legal reasons, they ignore the health consequences. As said above, some of this stuff is laced with rat poison. But if that isn’t bad enough, there are a host of other issues that fake weed can cause. For one, nausea and vomiting are common side effects. Also, perhaps because the chemicals used are so much more potent than THC, fake weed is more likely to cause anxiety and psychosis than cannabis. It can also cause issues with your circulatory system, such as rapid heart rate and high blood pressure.
Another reason to stay away from these products is that they simply don’t affect the body and mind in the same way as cannabis. Lewis Nelson, an MD at NYU’s Department of Emergency Medicine, Division of Medical Toxicology, said of his experience with K2/ Spice users, “Clinically, they just don’t look like people who smoke marijuana. Pot users are usually interactive, mellow, funny. Everyone once in a while we see a bad trip with natural marijuana. But it goes away quickly. With people using synthetic, they look like people who are using amphetamines: they’re angry, sweaty, agitated.” I think everyone can agree that being interactive, mellow, and funny is far better than being angry, sweaty, and agitated.
Synthetic marijuana, often sold under brand names such as Spice and K2, is a popular option for people who are uncomfortable with the price, legal status, and detectability of genuine cannabis. What many are unaware of are the dire health consequences that often come with synthetic cannabis use. Using Spice or K2 can cause symptoms ranging is severity from nausea to death from internal bleeding. To add to the unappealing nature of this designer drug, its effects are unlike the high from natural cannabinoids and are more likely to cause unpleasant psychological effects. Based on marketing that promises a safe and legal high, these substances might seem like a great alternative on paper. But regardless of what fake weed brands might promise, these substances are unpredictable, illegal, and dangerous.
Information about the cases of poisoning in Florida: https://www.tampabay.com/news/health/2021/12/15/2-dead-41-hospitalized-in-hillsborough-from-poisonous-batch-of-spice/
Article about why K2/ Spice is more dangerous than weed: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/08/28/6-reasons-synthetic-marijuana-spice-k2-is-so-toxic-to-the-brain/?sh=4b9ba1be73b1
Information regarding K2 related hospitalizations in New York: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/k2-poisonings-show-dangers-of-synthetic-drugs