TLDR: Don't ever try synthetic cannabis

Don't try it! Synthetic cannabinoids are mentally and physically addictive. They can cause severe mental and physical health problems, including rapid heart rate, vomiting, violent behaviour, suicidal thoughts, and many more!

Yikes! I tried it and didn't even know! 

WHAT'S UP SMOKEY! Much like the scene from cult classic Friday, where smokey unknowingly smokes angel dust, that was me, but instead of angel dust, it was black mamba (NPS) I was unwittingly smoking!

 YouTube Friday (1995) Smokey on Angel Dust

What are synthetic cannabinoids?

They're called synthetic cannabinoids because they are similar to chemicals found in cannabis plants. HOWEVER, they are not the same as traditionally grown cannabis. The effects of consuming can be unpredictable and, in some cases, dangerous or even life-threatening.

Synthetic cannabinoids are classed as "new psychoactive substances" (NPS). These NPS are human-made chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material or turned into vape liquids - which are then smoked in joints, pipes, e-cigarettes and vape devices. The resulting health effects from consuming these NPS can be very unpredictable and dangerous to your health.

Misleadingly and dangerously referred to as 'legal highs', these man-made substances were designed to replicate the effects of other illegal drugs. The term "legal highs" make NPS seem more acceptable and gave the impression they were less dangerous than hard drugs; this is not the case. Often they are the same compounds as their illegal counterparts - just with a slightly different molecular structure. Therefore they are likely to be just as dangerous - if not more so - than the illegal substance they replicate. The effects of these drugs can be very unpredictable and have resulted in hospital admissions and fatalities due to users experiencing sudden and violent physical reactions to the substance, causing collapse, breathing difficulties, and in severe cases even cardiac arrest.

spic in hand

Synthetic cannabinoids have a chemical structure that is similar to serotonin, a natural chemical found in the body. Synthetic cannabinoids can overstimulate the serotonin system, which can result in high fever, rapid pulse, sweating, agitation, confusion, convulsions, organ failure, coma, and even death.

Withdrawal symptoms:

  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • irritability
  • Irritated mental state
  • excessive sweating
  • fingers, toes or muscles feel numb and tingly
  • tremors, 
  • seizures
  • acute kidney damage

Product types: Herbal mix, vape juice, solids, and oils.

Brand names: Companies market these NPS products under a wide variety of specific brand names. These include: K2, Spice, Clockwork Orange, Blue Extreme, Annihilation, Amsterdam Gold, Joker, Black Mamba, Pandora's box, Brain Smash, Tai High, Hawaiian Haze, Exodus, and Devil's Weed.

It's legal weed: NO, it isn't! 

Because of this similarity they are sometimes misleadingly called synthetic cannabis, fake cannabis, or even go by the downright dangerous label: "legal highs." Some of my old buddies used to get "spice" thinking it was the same as cannabis, little did they know they were smoking something much more dangerous.  As the "legal high" scene was just getting going in the UK, around 2010, I didn't smoke lots of weed and would have a blast if one of my friends was carrying. My two best buds at the time did smoke a lot, though, and if they ever ran out, they would visit the local headshop and pick up some "spice" to see them through until they could score some more weed. The chemical composition of many synthetic cannabinoid products is unknown. The same product from the same manufacturer can vary from batch to batch, hence why these products cause dramatically different effects than the user might expect.

My horrifying experience

Was it anything like smoking weed? No. It was nothing like smoking either CBD cannabis or THC cannabis. It was an utterly horrifying experience, and nothing like I had ever tried (and I've been around the block a few times!). It wasn't even weird in a good way, just straight-up horrible.

The High: As a degenerate pothead, I can tell you the high is in no way the same as natural cannabis. Terrifying and much more like a class A drug, and frankly, it was way more potent than any type of Class A drug I had ever tried. 

The Low: My first ever suicidal thoughts! Never had I had any mental issues in my life, its around 5-6 years since my K2 experience, and I never had the same feeling like that night.

The Aftermath: Is it addictive? Hell yes! At the time, I didn't realise, but the friend that introduced me to K2 earlier in the story was heavily addicted to synthetic cannabinoids. I have a feeling its both mentally addictive and physically addictive. The concentration of synthetic cannabinoids in individual products can vary between production batches, and you can never be 100% sure of how powerful a dose you are going to get!

The Laws Then (2005-2016):  For many years, the legal status of "legal" highs or NPS was ambiguous and were widely sold in corner shops and head shops across the United Kingdom. So synthetic cannabinoids have been legal in the past (not now though!). 

The Laws Now (2016-beyond):   

The ban comes as a response to the increasing use of synthetic drugs across the streets of Britain. The most common form of NPS is synthetic cannabinoids. They are similar to cannabis in their chemical makeup, but they often have hallucinogenic compounds added that make them far more potent than marijuana. Before the "Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016" was introduced, a wide selection of NPS was freely available online and in head shops, off-licenses, and even petrol stations all over the UK. Now that it is a criminal offense to produce and supply NPS.

Class B drugs are illegal to have, give away, or sell. Since May 2016, when the Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect, none of these drugs are legal to produce, supply, or import for human consumption. Synthetic cannabinoids that were made illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act, are still covered by that legislation. All other psychoactive substances not currently covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act now fall under the Psychoactive Substances Act. Obviously, driving while high on NPS is dangerous and illegal. Get caught driving under the influence of synthetic cannabinoids, and you are in trouble. You may receive a heavy fine, driving ban, or prison sentence.

Call this guy a "Mambulance"!

UK Jail scene: There is a big NPS problem in the UK prison system; while there is no penalty for possession in the outside world, if you are in prison, its a different story. There have been some excellent papers detailing this, if you are interested in NPS use in UK prisons check out this comprehensive paper

More information

There is no safe way to use synthetic cannabis. Please don't use this drug, check out this documentary to see the impact of spice addiction in the UK. The stuff shown in this heartbreaking documentary is just the tip of the iceberg.