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Effects of Synthetic Marijuana or 'Fake Weed' Unknown

'Legal Bud' Products Are Anything But Natural

By

Updated April 03, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Spice Gold

Spice Gold herbal smoking blend

DEA
As if parents did not already have enough to worry about, with 43% of high school seniors reporting having used drugs at least once, now there is synthetic marijuana -- a product legally marketed as herbal incense that will reportedly get you high if you smoke it.

If your child is using the "legal bud" or the "fake weed" products, you should be concerned.

Synthetic Marijuana Gaining Popularity

Fake weed products are legal, and their use has grown since they were first introduced in 2002. They don't trigger a positive result on a urine drug test and are marketed as being "100% organic herbs," insinuating that they are natural and completely safe.

Legal, But Not Natural

The truth is, none of the products on the market are completely natural. They all have been found to contain various synthetic cannabinoids, chemicals produced in laboratories originally to help scientists study the cannabinoid system in the human brain.

These chemicals are indeed completely legal, so far, but what effect they may have on the human body is a mystery. No studies have been published testing the effects of the chemicals on users, so we know nothing about their possible side effects.

Even the online stores that promote and sell the legal weed products do so with disclaimers such as "we make no claims in regards to the effects of these products on the human body, mind or soul."

Street Names of Synthetic Marijuana

There are dozens of products today that are being sold as herbal smoking blends, legal bud, herbal smoke, marijuana alternatives, fake weed or herbal buds. Some of the brand names of the synthetic marijuana products include: Blaze, Blueberry Haze, Dank, Demon Passion Smoke, Genie, Hawaiian Hybrid, K2, Magma, Ninja, Nitro, Ono Budz, Panama Red Ball, Puff, Sativah Herbal Smoke, Skunk, Spice, Ultra Chronic and Voodoo Spice.

What Does Fake Weed Look Like?

Synthetic marijuana is a mixture of dried leaves from traditional herbal plants. They are various colors including green, brown, blonde and red. They are sold in small packets approximately 2 by 3 inches. The packets are foil packs or plastic zip bags (see photos above).

What Are the Herbs in Legal Bud?

Some of the fake marijuana products sold commercially claim to contain herbs traditionally used for medicinal purposes, including beach bean (canavalia maritima), blue Egyptian water lily (nymphaea caerulea), dwarf skullcap (scutellaria nana), Indian warrior (pedicularis densiflora), Lion's tail (leonotis leonurus), Indian lotus (nelumbo nucifera) and honeyweed (leonurus sibiricus).

However, one study revealed that some of the herbal ingredients listed by the manufacturers could not be found in the products. As far as we know, some of these products may contain nothing but lawn clippings.

What Are the Chemicals in Synthetic Marijuana?

Originally, the fake marijuana products contained a chemical called HU-210, which has a molecular structure very similar to THC -- the active ingredient in marijuana. Because HU-210 is listed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance in the United States, the fake weed products were manufactured and sold only in Europe.

Recently, two new synthetic cannabinoid agonists have been created that are not similar in structure to THC and therefore not listed as controlled substances. By using CP 47,497 and JWH-018 in the synthetic marijuana mixtures, manufacturers are able to legally market their products in the United States.

What Happens When You Smoke Synthetic Marijuana?

It's important to remember that we have no scientific studies on the effects smoking the herbal blend products has on humans. Some studies conducted on mice indicated that the use of synthetic cannabinoids were similar to those of marijuana.

There are several "reviews" published on the Internet of some of the individual brand names, some of them by individual bloggers, but others published by reputable journalists.

The consensus seems to be that smoking the fake weed products will produce a high similar to smoking marijuana, but it doesn't last as long. However, other reviewers said the result was more of a relaxed feeling, rather than the "head high" that real marijuana produces.

None of the herbal smoking blends reviewed got great marks for taste, and another reviewer said they were more "harsh" than marijuana and that they "make your throat burn and your lungs ache" long after you smoke.

What Are the Long-Term Effects?

We simply do not know. There have been no studies conducted on what effects the synthetic cannabinoids may have on the body and brain. Of course, smoking any substance could have negative affects on the lungs, but we have no scientific evidence concerning the specific use of these fake marijuana products.

We do have a warning from one of the scientists who helped develop the JWH-018 chemical. While studying the effects of pharmaceuticals on the brain, a student of John Huffman, Clemson University research professor of chemistry, discovered the chemical JWH-018, also known by the name 1-Pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole.

"The problem with JWH-018 is that absolutely nothing is known regarding its toxicity or metabolites," Huffman warned. "Therefore, it is potentially dangerous and should not be used."

Educate Your Children

Adolescents may be tempted to use the fake marijuana products because they buy into the idea that they are made up of "natural" ingredients, they are safe and they are legal.

Educate your children about the hazards of consuming anything that has not been tested and let them know that these fake marijuana products are anything but natural. Does "2-[(1R,3S)-3-hydroxycyclohexyl]-5-(2-methyloctan-2-yl)phenol)" (CP 47,497) sound natural to you?

Is your child using drugs or alcohol? Are you sure? Answering these 20 questions can help you recognize some of the tell-tell signs.

Sources:

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "Drugs and Chemicals of Concern: Spice Cannabinoid." July 2009.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "Spice - Plant Material(s) Laced With Synthetic Cannabinoids Or Cannabinoid Mimicking Compounds" Microgram Bulletin March 2009.

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