If you’ve been listening in on all the talk about CBD lately, chances are that you’ve already heard about synthetic cannabinoids. But what do synthetic cannabinoids actually mean, and are they dangerous to consume?
In order to answer whatever questions you might have piled up, we’ve put together a little something. After all, we care about your safety and your well-being.
Before we go any further into the meaning of synthetic cannabinoids, let’s first run through a simple 101 on cannabinoids. That way, we make sure that nothing is lost in the explanation of what the synthetic part is all about.
Let’s get to it.
What are Cannabinoids?
The way cannabinoids work is by imitating compounds that our bodies naturally produce. These are often referred to as endocannabinoids - “endo” meaning that they’re cannabinoids that are produced from within. By doing so, the cannabinoids help activate and stabilize internal health and balance.
The cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis sativa plant are called phytocannabinoids. CBD and THC are both examples of well-known phytocannabinoids. While THC is associated with feeling “high”, CBD (short for cannabidiol) has the ability to provide relief to an array of symptoms such as pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, stress, and inflammation of all sorts.
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When cannabinoids enter the system, they bind to receptors located throughout our bodies. Simply put, there are a few different types of receptors. CB1 receptors are most abundant in your central nervous system (CNS), whereas CB2 receptors are primarily found outside of the CNS, including in your white blood cells, and in the cells of your immune system.
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Depending on which receptors the cannabinoids bind to, different effects occur. This is because cannabinoids each have different effects. For example, THC binds to receptors in the brain, whereas both CBD and CBN (cannabinol) have a strong affinity for CB-2 receptors. These are located throughout the body.
By attaching themselves to these receptors, the cannabinoids can start to work with and stir up your system. To be more precise, they work with the endocannabinoid system; a complex system that, when in balance, helps maintain biological stability in the body (homeostasis).
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So, What are Synthetic Cannabinoids?
Synthetic cannabinoids are a large family of chemically unrelated compounds. They often go by the name “spice”, “herbal incense”, “K2”, or “synthetic cannabis”. They are produced to look like naturally-produced cannabis, however, the content is under no circumstances the same and therefore important to look out for.
It’s important to note that a synthetic cannabinoid isn’t a cannabis product. Instead, it’s a chemical analog that binds to the exact same system of receptors as mentioned before. It that sense, it’s a designer drug.
To put it in numbers, studies show that synthetic cannabinoids can be up to 2 to 100 times more potent than THC and can have severe side effects such as:
- Chest pain
- Increased heart rate
- Vision blackouts
- Kidney damage
- High blood pressure
As if all that wasn’t enough to worry about, people have also reported significant withdrawal symptoms, and taking them can even result in death.
How Do They Work?
With herbal cannabinoids, the cannabinoids (such as CBD or THC) latch to the CB1 receptors in the brain. Now, when it comes to synthetic cannabinoids, this part is the same, as the fake cannabinoids also bind to the CB1 receptors. The difference is just that it binds with a much higher affinity - because they’re fake and therefore capable of overstimulating the receptors.
In fact, many synthetic cannabinoids are far stronger and more potent than the active compound (THC) that we find in cannabis. For this reason, synthetic cannabinoids are most likely far more dangerous to consume.
The thing is, you’re never really sure what you’re getting. As far as delivery methods go, smoking is the most common route of administration, however, oral, pulmonary (vaporization) and rectal administration have also been described.
How Are They Made?
Synthetic cannabinoids are shipped overseas from China to a long line of manufacturers. Their job is then to prepare the blends using high-proof alcohol or acetone solvents. This is called reverse-extraction: the synthetic molecules are then dissolved in a solvent and introduced to its plantlike host material through a soaking or spraying process.
As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong in the production process. A poorly mixed solution or an uneven spray job can easily result in chemical “hot spots,” or dangerously potent areas of the batch. As a buyer of these products, you’re therefore at high risk of getting a product that’s in no way helpful and potentially very dangerous.
So, Why is it On the Market?
Well, that’s a really good question. Rumor has it that synthetic cannabinoids were thought to be legal and promised to have the ability to mimic the effects of real cannabis. However, we now know there’s no truth to that. In reality, it has had more to do with quick and easy distribution and a lot of money being made.
If we go back a bit, we’ll see how synthetic cannabinoids actually arrived on the market by a mere accident.
John William Huffman was a Harvard graduate and an organic chemistry professor at Clemson University. In the middle of the 1980s, he began synthesizing hundreds of novel cannabinoids for medical research purposes. He did this in order to gain a better understanding of cannabinoid mechanisms.
Subsequently, following the publication of his work, a cannabinoid called JWH-018 appeared thousands of miles away in a German forensic lab. The researchers gave it the name “spice”, and started disseminating it to curious and experimentally-inclined customers. As is the case with many other designer drugs, this is where it all went wrong.
Seeing that it was relatively easy to manufacture with remarkably short turnaround time, it didn’t take long for clandestine drug manufacturers to take advantage of the opportunity and open the market floodgates. After realizing what had happened, Huffman responded: “Someone opened Pandora’s box.”
Say No to Synthetic Cannabinoids
You can never be sure what you’re getting. Nature has so much to offer, and there’s just no need to compromise quality and risk ending up paying with your own health.
Why not head to our blog to learn more about CBD, or have a look around our webshop and check out our products. As always, we’re happy to assist you in both your CBD education and your purchases. Send us an email or get in touch via the chat box in the bottom right corner, if you have any questions.
Disclaimer: Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Endoca and its staff. This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or cure. Endoca CBD products have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).