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Synthetic cannabinoids (sin-thet-ic can-a-bin-oids) are chemicals which target cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and/or CB2) in the brain. Smoking mixtures are often made to look like cannabis and although described as 'herbal' (natural) the psychoactive substance is typically synthetic (man-made). These chemicals are often sprayed onto dried plant material and sold by brand names such as Kronic, Black Mamba, Clockwork Orange, Exodus Damnation, Annihilation, Spice, and Herbal Haze. Many brands contain a blend of more than one cannabinoid. Common cannabinoids include AKB48, 5F-AKB48, PB22, 5F-PB22 and STS-135.
The effects of synthetic cannabinoids are wide ranging and it is generally dependant on the 'chemical to plant' ratio in smoking mixtures. Cannabinoids that are currently legal are thought to be stronger than those banned in the past.
Effects are more exaggerated and unpredictable than cannabis. People using them can experience an intense but short lived high, enhanced sensations, feelings of heaviness and nausea as well as anxiety, paranoia and heart palpitations. People have also reported an increase in severe mental health issues when using these substances including 'detachment from reality', suicidal thoughts and depression.
Physical withdrawal symptoms include seizures, shakes, sweating and insomnia. Psychological withdrawal symptoms can include depression, anxiety, paranoia and aggression. If you would like help with your use please contact your local drug service.
They come in a variety of herbal blends which look like tea and smell sweet. They are usually smoked with tobacco or other herbs in a joint or a bong. The dose varies depending on the type you take but they are much stronger than cannabis and a pinch is usually more than enough! Synthetic cannabinoids can also be found as a white powder (which are active in very small doses) or oil (designed for use in vapourisers).
If you choose to use synthetic cannabinoids:
Potency is variable: dose carefully - start low go slow!
Control doses by measuring amounts. Use accurate scales; don’t judge by eye!
Use short puffs when inhaling. Cannabinoids enter the blood stream in a few seconds so holding in smoke doesn’t increase the effects but it can do more damage to your lungs.
Be careful if taking in bongs/pipes as it is easy to take too much.
Regular use may lead to dependency.
If you have any history of mental health issues we would strongly advise against using these substances. If you think your use is causing you harm contact your local drug service.
Synthetic cannabinoids increase heart rate. Try to avoid these compounds if you have an existing heart problem or are using alongside stimulants. If you experience a sustained period of fast heart rate, or chest pains call an ambulance.
Avoid driving or operating machinery under the influence of cannabinoids.
Avoid mixing with other drugs, medicines and alcohol, especially downers or trips.
The chemicals are sprayed onto plant material and can collect at the bottom of a packet. Shake the packet regularly to mix it back together.
If taking powdered synthetic cannabinoids, only use small doses and weigh out using scales.
After taking these drugs you may experience a comedown. Try to eat healthily, rest and avoid taking more drugs during this time. You should feel better after a few days off!
Regularly taking these drugs will build tolerance meaning you will need a greater dose to get the same effect. If you have a tolerance and stop taking them you may experience withdrawal which can be prolonged and painful. Always seek medical help if needed.
Check the A-Z to see information about a specific synthetic cannabinoid.
Some synthetic cannabinoids are covered by The Misuse of Drugs Act. Others are covered by The Psychoactive Substances Act. It was introduced in the UK on the 26th May 2016 and it makes it an offence to manufacture, export/import (i.e. buying from a non-UK website), supply or offer to supply any psychoactive substance, if likely to be used for its psychoactive effects. Despite being psychoactive, alcohol, nicotine, tobacco and caffeine are exempt from the act.
Under the new regulations, possession with intent to supply is an offence. Possession is not an offence, except in a ‘custodial institution’ (e.g. prison, young offenders centre).
Penalties range from civil sanctions to a 7 year prison sentence but some offences will be considered to be aggravated, including selling to under 18s or around schools and children’s homes etc.
The Human Medicines Regulations (2012) and the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) including Temporary Class Drug Orders (TCDOs) will remain unchanged.
The police have increased powers to stop and search individuals and premises, and NPS may be treated like a controlled drug until proven otherwise.