A Closer Look Into Synthetic Marijuana

Many of us have heard of synthetic marijuana, going under the names Spice and K-2. The news often does small pieces on the trend but they don’t go into detail. What exactly is synthetic marijuana and why does it appeal to teenagers so much?

In-Depth Look at Synthetic Marijuana

What is it?

Spice usually contains herbal materials that have been sprayed with at least one cannabinoid designer chemicals. Until March 2011, the DEA had not scheduled this drug and it was legally available over the counter on the internet, in convenience stores, smoke shops, etc. The DEA scheduled the chemicals widely used, but producers find a way to keep tweaking the chemical formula to avoid control.

Synthetic Marijuana Usage

Amongst 12th graders, synthetic marijuana was the second most widely used drug after marijuana; annual prevalence in 2011-2012 was 11.4 percent. In 2013, synthetic use dropped sharply and continued to drop until the annual use prevalence in 2015 was down to 3 percent.

Testing for Synthetic Cannabinoids

Hair testing is a non-invasive way to collect the specimen. It also provides a wide drug detection window. In 2013, a method was developed to detect 23 common syn-cans. Hair samples were compared to 344 archived specimens that previously tested positive for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, methadone, amphetamines, or the long term alcohol biomarker, ethyl glucuronide. 15 of the 344 were found to contain at least one syn-can.

Syn-Can Stats

  • Over 500 have been discovered
  • Each substance must be individually listed as a controlled substance
  • 80 percent of syn-can users are also marijuana users

The Implications

The prevalence of syn-can use is low compared to other commonly abused drugs. Over a longer period of time, users of marijuana and other drugs won’t continue to use only syn-cans, they always revert back to their drug of choice.

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