There’s a warning spreading throughout Chicagoland and central Illinois. Health officials are alerting people to the fatal consequences that can result from the use of synthetic cannabis, or “Fake Weed”. Synthetic cannabis has already been responsible for 2 deaths and over 54 cases of severe bleeding in Illinois, and cases appear to be popping up more and more.
The Back Story
Known predominantly as K2 or Spice, synthetic cannabinoids can cause severe bleeding after use, along with coughing up blood, blood in urine, or nasal and gum bleeding. Since there is no regulation of synthetic cannabinoids, the situation makes it difficult to identify a source or sources of the substance.
It was academic research that led to the development of the first synthetic cannabis compounds. John W. Huffman, a Clemson University professor became interested in how receptors in the brain control nausea, mood, appetite, inflammation, and pain. In short, the formula he used to create the compound, JHW-018, in 1993 was discovered by underground drugmakers and used by people to get high. Recreational drugs adapted from the formula began appearing in great numbers in both Europe and the U.S. in 2008 and 2009.
Synthetic marijuana has become a staple of recreational drug use across the country, and even though attitudes toward the actual use of cannabis for recreational and more importantly, medical use, have lightened up, a curious mix of fake weed users has grown to include athletes, teenagers looking for a thrill, and homeless people looking for a cheap and long-lasting high.
What is Synthetic Cannabis?
One of the keys to understanding synthetic cannabis is to take a look at the word “synthetic”, which in definition means to be made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product. Fake weed is exactly that — it’s not real marijuana, and it’s made up of man-made chemicals that interact with the same cell receptors as natural THC in the brain. As THC makes up the active ingredient in natural cannabis, the chemicals that are used to make and resemble THC are what’s known as “synthetic cannabinoids”.
The chemicals that can make up fake weed can be consumed a number of ways, but what apparently fools users the most is that they’re duped into thinking that the fake weed is of the same makeup as natural cannabis because it’s also sold in bags and smoked just like the real thing. In actuality, chopped and diced dry plant material has been sprayed with the chemicals to “look” like real cannabis. The danger lies in how the chemical(s) in the synthetic cannabis will affect their body.
K2 and Spice and Bliss, Oh My! Know danger by its name!
Among the widely known names on the street that synthetic cannabis goes by are Spice and K2, but there are hundreds and hundreds more—like Bliss, Cowboy Kush, Aloha, Amsterdam Gold, Baby J, Berries, Buzz Haze, Cloud 9 Blueberry, Scooby Snax…and the list goes on. Packaging with dragons, smiley faces, cartoon figures and the like make it attractive to young people especially.
Part of the big draw is also how cheap the drugs are. At a street price of around $50 per ounce, and packets as low as $10 in smoke shops and convenience stores, it’s also relatively affordable.
The Bad High
Things can go wrong with too much consumption of any drug, but the distinction between natural cannabis and synthetic cannabis and their effects are like night and day. Even though the government has labeled cannabis a dangerous, illegal drug akin to ecstasy and heroin, hear us when we say…there has not been any recorded evidence of any one person dying singularly from a natural cannabis overdose.
What synthetic cannabis can do to the unsuspecting user however is much more alarming. Depending on the chemical makeup and how much they’re applied to the plant material, there can be highly concentrated spots where the chemical is at a highly dangerous level.
The side effects that can result from smoking synthetic cannabinoids can include catatonia, extreme anxiety, paranoia, nausea, vomiting, racing heartbeat and elevated blood pressure, seizures, and hallucinations. In short, becoming severely ill and even dying is a very real possibility when you use synthetic marijuana.
The Best Advice
With there being a number of obstacles and catches standing in the way of declaring synthetic cannabis totally illegal because of the multiplicity of chemicals in synthetic cannabis formulas that don’t qualify as illegal, the best advice going is to stay away from anything remotely connected to it. No matter what you buy from a street vendor or smoke shop, you’ll have no way of knowing what you’re putting into your body until it’s too late.