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Medically Reviewed

The Dangers of Smoking Synthetic Marijuana

- 4 sections

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer:

Sahil Talwar, PA-C, MBA


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Marijuana is one of the most commonly-abused drugs in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted research in 2019 that showed about 18% of Americans reported using marijuana in the previous year.[1]

As several states have legalized it in some capacity, the popularity of marijuana has grown. Some manufacturers have decided to capitalize on its popularity by producing synthetic marijuana. Synthetic marijuana mimics some of the drug’s effects but is unregulated and considered legal in many states–even those where marijuana is still illegal.

Synthetic cannabis is not safe, even though it is sold alongside donuts and chewing gum at many gas stations and convenience stores. The effects of smoking synthetic marijuana can be serious–and sometimes life-threatening. Understanding how synthetic marijuana can impact your health and how to stop using it is essential.

If you or someone you love uses synthetic cannabis or requires addiction treatment, reach out to the Carolina Center for Recovery Specialists today.

What is Synthetic Marijuana?

Marijuana is a plant that produces mind-altering chemicals, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Synthetic marijuana consists of chemical compounds incorporated into liquids or plant materials that are sprayed or soaked in an artificial (human-made) THC compound. It may appear as a liquid or look like potpourri or dried marijuana. Users ingest it by smoking it in joints, pipes, or e-cigarettes. Synthetic marijuana is sold commercially under many names, including:

  • Spice
  • K2
  • Bliss
  • Black Mamba
  • Bombay Blue
  • Blaze
  • Fake Weed
  • Genie
  • Legal Weed
  • Zohai
  • Red X

Synthetic marijuana is often sold in brightly colored packages. Although Spice is sold legally, it is an unregulated product that is not tested or approved by the FDA. It is nearly impossible to determine how much of the active ingredient a package of K2 contains or how much you are consuming. There are very few studies about its safety or the long-term effects of using synthetic cannabis.[2]

Marijuana vs. Synthetic Marijuana: Understanding the Differences

Marijuana contains THC, which affects the areas of the brain involved with pain, pleasure, learning, and memory. When someone ingests marijuana, the THC travels from the bloodstream into the brain and interacts with cannabinoid receptors there. People experience a range of sensations when using marijuana, including:

  • Heightened senses (smell, touch, sound, taste)
  • Altered sense of time
  • Laughter
  • Increased appetite
  • Relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis

The THC found in marijuana is naturally-occurring and tends to be relatively consistent within a range from strain to strain. Many people smoke marijuana in a joint or pipe. When smoked, marijuana’s effects often begin quickly. When eaten, the effects of marijuana can take longer to show up because the THC must pass through a person’s digestive tract before entering the bloodstream.

Unlike the naturally-occurring THC found in marijuana, synthetic cannabis contains chemicals created in a laboratory to mimic the effects of the real thing. Levels of the chemicals can vary from brand to brand and even from one package to the next. Users may accidentally ingest far more of the chemicals than they are aware of–and this can lead to severe harm to their health, including:

  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Muscle damage
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Orgain damage
  • Convulsions
  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate

People may also die after ingesting large amounts of synthetic cannabis.

Understanding the Dangers of Smoking Synthetic Marijuana

People may mistakenly believe synthetic cannabis must be safe and regulated because they see it on store shelves. This is simply not the case. Synthetic cannabis products are entirely unregulated and are not monitored for safety. Manufacturers may use any combination of chemicals without following guidelines or regulations. The result? Dangerous, sometimes toxic products get into people’s hands daily.

Some K2 manufacturers may attempt to replicate the chemical compounds found in natural marijuana but may add toxic chemical additives that can be harmful, even in low doses. Synthetic marijuana users are at increased risk of severe health problems, including seizures, kidney failure, dangerously high blood pressure, and overdose.[3]

Many people believe that synthetic cannabis isn’t addictive. However, many people find that withdrawal from Spice is so uncomfortable that they need to use more to avoid it. This can keep people caught up in a cycle of using K2 that feels impossible to break. The more a person uses synthetic cannabis, the more likely they are to experience adverse effects of the drug.

The danger of smoking synthetic cannabis comes from not knowing precisely what you are getting. Because it is an unregulated product, you have no idea if the product you’re buying is safe or how much of a chemical you are ingesting. If you use synthetic marijuana, you must get the treatment and support you need to stop safely and detox completely.

Get Help Now

Many people believe that marijuana and synthetic marijuana are not addictive, but any mood or mind-altering substance can be habit-forming. If you or someone you love needs substance abuse treatment, contact the Carolina Center for Recovery specialists today.