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What is Synthetic Marijuana?

11/29/2021 All About Cannabis

This is a cautionary tale.  Before medical marijuana was legalized, synthetic marijuana became widely available in many parts of the country. For a time, fake weed was more readily available than the real thing, in part because it could be bought and sold legally in some states.  One of the most popular is K2, or Spice weed.

One reason it could be sold legally was that it was labeled “Not for human consumption.” This way, if there was a bad outcome for fake weed consumers, the sellers couldn’t be held liable. It would be hard to think of a worse situation for consumers.  There have been some tragic outcomes. We’ve all seen the headlines – over 70 people overdosed on K2 in Connecticut in 2018, over 300 overdoses in Washington, D.C. within two weeks the same year, coverage of the tragic deaths of young people.

Synthetic weed can be dangerous. Always get your weed from a licensed dispensary.

Synthetic weed can be laced with opioids or even fentanyl. In addition, brodifacoum, a long-acting anticoagulant (used in rat poison), is sometimes added in an attempt to extend a high.

In short:  it is highly recommended to never use or try synthetic weed of any kind.  Obtain your weed only through authorized and legal dispensaries.

But, what is synthetic weed?

Fake weed, also known as K2 or Spice, was developed during research on cannabinoids in the 1980s. To make the product, synthetic psychoactive chemicals are sprayed or dried onto plant matter. These products are often labeled “natural” because of the organic materials used, but their origin is anything but.

Dealers found a market for fake marijuana in places where the real thing was illegal. It was said that synthetic marijuana users could pass drug tests (later found to be a false claim). The idea that using fake weed could help you pass a drug test was powerful and helped build a market for these products.

Sellers of fake weed in Colorado and other states have claimed their products are safe. The packaging can be colorful and appealing, and products can be bought in stores or online. Some packaging even features cartoon characters or other images that could appeal to children (such as a yellow smiley face or Scooby-Doo).

Labeled “Not for human consumption,” the products can look like potpourri and are advertised as plant food or incense. This way, they can’t be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Consumers don’t have information about the ingredients or strengths of synthetic weed. They don’t know they’re risking their lives when they use it.

Danger Zone

Synthetic marijuana can cause a range of harmful effects for users. These can include headaches, seizures, lung failure, chest pain, increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, psychosis, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and problems with memory.  No bueno.

While fake weed targets the same receptors in the brain as natural marijuana, the effects are not the same. Synthetic marijuana can be up to 100 times more potent than naturally produced THC.

Because of the chemical construction of synthetic marijuana, it is much more dangerous than natural weed. There are many types of synthetic marijuana with different ingredients and strengths. Unfortunately, there haven’t been scientific studies done on synthetic weed.

Origin Story

The beginnings of synthetic marijuana are surprising. In the mid-1980s, an organic chemistry professor received funding from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to study cannabinoids. During the research process, hundreds of novel cannabinoids were synthesized.

To make fake weed, the synthetic material is created in a lab, then dissolved with a solvent like acetone. The synthetic molecules are applied to plant-based materials by spraying or soaking. Synthetic weed can be smoked or vaped.  If the process isn’t done correctly, it’s easy to make parts of each batch with dangerous potency levels – producing a terrible impact on consumers. Someone might be anticipating the gentle, natural high from real marijuana, only to be met with a harsh experience and awful side effects.

The production of synthetic weed is not regulated and is often careless, and there’s no consistency in labeling. So it’s hard for consumers to even know what they’re buying.  Congress added the ingredients in synthetic weed to the list of controlled substances, making them illegal for consumption. Many states, including Colorado, Missouri and Massachusetts, banned synthetic weed years ago, though enforcement of these laws has been difficult.

The Real Thing

Avoid the purchase of Spice, K2, and other synthetic marijuana products. If someone offers to share synthetic marijuana, you should be able to notice it has an unpleasant, stale odor. It doesn’t smell like cigarettes or natural marijuana.

If it doesn’t smell like marijuana, then it probably isn’t.

In contrast, real cannabis is derived from actual plants that are cultivated, harvested, dried, cured, and ground up. The oil obtained by extracting cannabinoids can then be used to make medical marijuana products with uniform dosing. Medical marijuana is subject to strict regulation, safety standards, and has truthful and clear labeling. Real weed is definitely the way to go.

If you’re thinking that medical marijuana could help with your health, you should speak with a medical marijuana doctor to see if you have a qualifying condition.

As always!

Stop by one of 7 convenient Denver locations to speak with one our expert budtenders to find the right weed for you!



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