Synthetic cannabis is a man-made product that when ingested, mirrors the effects of cannabis. Cannabis
is of course also known to the world as marijuana and has long been used for its psychoactive effects.
Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol is the primary chemical in marijuana and it is what creates the intense
sensory effects of the substance. Synthetic cannabis though is made without it, but still replicates the effect. Contemporary use of the man-made version is usually for recreational purposes, for religious
ceremonies or for medicinal purposes. It comes to the market usually as “Spice” or “K2” and it is
available at different locations such as head shops, gas stations, convenience stores and online. It can be
purchased as either an “herbal incense” or an “herbal smoke blend.” Either way, it is without the same
contents as marijuana and offers a non-nicotine based alternative to smokers. It was created to mirror
marijuana but eliminate the legal issues the former possessed.
Originally, synthetic cannabis went on the market back in the early 2000s. First it was believed that
the mixture was made of legal herbs, but analysis has shown that it does contain cannabinoids that
mirror effects brought on by cannabis. Synthetic cannabis is a designer drug though, which means
it can provide similar effects of its illegal counterparts, but remain within the strict drug laws in
existence. This is the main part of the synthetic drug’s appeal. It usually is marketed as an “herbal
incense” product or as a “smoking blend.” Though it replicates the aftereffects of marijuana, it does not
come with the same chemical makeup and therefore is undetectable to drug testing. Many European
countries have made the herbal smoke product illegal. The US Drug Enforcement Administration made
a determination in 2010 to use its emergency rulings for banning synthetic cannabis. Namely, it is five
different cannabinoids that are named as hazardous- JWH-200, CP-47,497, HU-210, JWH-073 and JWH-
018. The synthetic version however comes with herbal elements like nymphaea caerulea, Scutellaria
nana, Nelumbo nucifera, Leonurus sibiricus and Canavalia maritma. Much research has been done on
the product in the past few years to assure the safety of its content. In Germany, the product was found
to possess some CP47,497. In New Zealand, it was found to posses more than ten different synthetic
ingredients including JWH-018 and AM-2201. Due to the varying elements it is being made with,
lawmakers are making stricter laws and continuing to scrutinize the synthetic alternative to cannabis.
Research is still sketchy at best though, and there have been reports of psychotic episodes suffered
by users after ingesting the smoke. There have also been reports of heart attacks associated with K2,
along with convulsions. Despite its detrimental effects, a recent study showed that one in eight of those
surveyed had tested some form of synthetic cannabis.
Due to the precarious status of synthetic cannabis something else is happening; distributors are moving
to underground methods. More and more common are instances where illegal manufacturers are
making their way into the general market with dangerous products. For example, in early March of this
year three young people in Wyoming were hospitalized with kidney failure. They all ingested Spice,
known as a “designer drug”, or one that is manufactured and synthetic. Right now the state officials
are investigating the incidents but it is drawing a lot of attention to synthetic cannabis and its safety.
The people who fell ill all shared the usage of “blueberry Spice”. Of course the product comes with
unscrupulous manufacturers are able to create the product their own way and under the watchful
eyes of no one. It has already been documented that some put chemicals that are dangerous into
their blends. They are purchasing the individual ingredients from remote places in Europe and then
mixing them in the states. Unsuspecting young people who want an “herbal high” are paying top-dollar
for the mixes and then falling ill to them. This is the kind of issue that is causing people to question
the legalities and what the government is proactively doing to protect buyers. If synthetic cannabis is
unregulated, then the door for “garage manufacturing” is wide open. Due to how popular Spice and
K2 are, manufacturers are jumping to throw their “hats into the ring” when it comes to finding new
customers. Of course, they enter the market with little regard for those buyers or their safety. Their goal
is to effectively capitalize on its popularity and demand.
So what is the solution? When it comes to prohibition, it never works. History has proven that. Recount
how many times throughout history countries have tried to prohibit alcohol consumption and sales.
In 1907 to almost 1950 Prince Edward Island had prohibition laws on alcohol in various Canadian
provinces. The Soviet Union did the same thing from 1914 to 1925. Iceland repeated it approximately
at the same time. For thirteen years, starting in 1920, the US had alcohol prohibition laws in effect.
Although many countries tried, the bottom line is that prohibition was a startling failure- in particular
when organized crime took control of underground distribution channels. They moved in on the market
as people started to look for alternative ways of procuring alcohol and at a high cost, supported the
demand that was in effect. Illegal channels took millions worth of revenue as a result of the prohibition
laws. They also took it upon themselves to make their own concoctions. Without any regulation,
manufacturers in the underground world were at liberty to make their own rules in terms of what
ingredients to use- many of which were highly dangerous for users. The underground market opened
the door wide though for these illegal and dangerous alcohol alternatives to enter the marketplace.
Demand kept it going, but government restrictions fed underground alternatives too. The same thing is
happening with synthetic cannabis.
Synthetic cannabis is seeing a lot of legal issues and pushing to the forefront of legislators’ desks. They
are quick to try to ban it, but there is a demand for the product. Like prohibition, limiting herbal Spice
and K2 is opening the door for “garage” manufacturers to prosper. They are creating their own special
blends that can, and oftentimes do, contain dangerous chemicals. With no legal alternative, many young
people are falling prey to the drug and falling ill as a result. Many of these “garage manufacturers” are
selling to smokers as young as fourteen and fifteen years of age. They have no concern for safety and
it is creating a health crisis for the market to manage. The industry is coming out of the mix with a bad
name. As people continue to get sick from illegally-created synthetic cannabis, legislators are confirming
that they should ban it. What they aren’t looking at though is how their banning is what is stifling proper
regulation of manufacturing. If there was a proper way to regulate synthetic cannabis it would protect
users. The only way to completely eliminate illegal manufacturing is to legalize cannabis and its synthetic
counterpart. With government approval, synthetic cannabis could be manufactured with its own
regulatory standards. Not only would this create a safe market, but it would bring in millions of dollars