Synthetic cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids, also known as “kiosk drugs” in Israel, are sold under commercial names such as Nice Guy and Mabsuton, and are sometimes packaged as herbal infusions. Nonetheless, behind these innocent and ever-changing names lies a wide variety of dangerous substances, marketed for years as legal drug “substitutes,” and sold in the form of incense, liquid for vaporization, or shredded plant material for water pipes.

Synthetic cannabinoids include various herbs that have been sprayed with psychoactive substances that mimic the activity of cannabinoids, and that sometimes contain added chemicals such as ether and acetone, among others. Specifically, these psychoactive substances are a group of hundreds of synthetic chemicals that attach to the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain as THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. However, synthetic cannabinoids can affect the brain in different and unpredictable ways compared to cannabis, and can be dozens of times more powerful than THC.

Despite the misleading messages on the packaging of many synthetic cannabinoid products – such as “100% legal,” “100% natural,” and “not classified as a drug” – these are, in fact, psychoactive, consciousness-altering, harmful and addictive substances that can cause irreversible damage. As a result, in July 2013 the Israeli Knesset passed a law to combat the use of these hazardous substances. In response to the rapid turnover of these substances on the market, the law grants the director of the Israeli Ministry of Health the authority to prohibit the distribution of a substance deemed dangerous.

A bit of history


Synthetic cannabinoids were first synthesized in 1984 by the chemist John William Huffman, in his laboratory at Clemson University in South Carolina, USA. Huffman and his team developed more than 400 synthetic cannabinoids over the course of twenty years for medical and pharmacological research. In the late 2000s, two of the compounds that Huffman and his team made began being sold in Germany as cannabis alternatives, under the names K2 and Spice. Huffman himself warned that these substances were dangerous, and even helped US and Canadian authorities formulate laws prohibiting the use and sale of synthetic cannabinoids.


Why do people use synthetic cannabinoids?


Synthetic cannabinoids activate the same receptors in the brain as does THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, and their effects are similar: a sense of calm and euphoria, and heightened sensory perceptions, including sound, color, taste and smell.

The main consumers of synthetic cannabinoids are teenagers and young adults, mainly because they are easy to obtain, relatively cheap and, as mentioned, were sold legally in Israel until 2013, when the first law to regulate them was passed.


What are the adverse health effects of cannabinoids?


As mentioned above, synthetic cannabinoids are highly addictive substances that are hard to withdraw from. Beyond being addictive, these kiosk drugs can cause hallucinations, psychotic seizures, paranoia, tantrums, violent outbursts, restlessness and irritability, and can trigger psychiatric episodes that require hospitalization. In addition, the use of synthetic cannabinoids may trigger increased heart rate and blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, and suicidal thoughts. In recent years, the number of deaths reported as a result of their use has increased.

Moreover, there have been reported cases of contaminated cannabinoid substances that have led to fatalities in the United States.



Why is it hard to stop using synthetic cannabinoids?  


Synthetic cannabinoids are considered more addictive than cannabis, and the attempt to stop using them is accompanied by withdrawal symptoms, including increased anxiety, depression, nightmares and hallucinations. Their high addictive potential is linked to their intense activity on brain receptors and their rapid disintegration. The progression from strong activity to rapid disintegration promotes more frequent use, which increases the risk of addiction. Abstaining from synthetic cannabinoids after long-term use triggers withdrawal symptoms similar to those of nicotine withdrawal (irritability, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and decreased appetite), which, in turn, can lead to recurrent use of the drug.



Did you know?


In July 2013, the Knesset passed the Struggle Against the Phenomenon of the Use of Dangerous Substances Law, which grants the Director General of the Ministry of Health the authority to declare a substance prohibited for distribution.


This was done in response to the rapid turnover of these dangerous substances on the market.