New Synthetic Marijuana Among ‘Most Dangerous’ Compounds

The synthetic cannabinoid CHMINACA has been appearing on the island of Jersey in the English Channel, and authorities have issued stark warnings about its dangers. Many forms of synthetic marijuana, including CHMINACA, have been banned in the U.S. and other countries around the world, but the relative ease of creating new strains means that governments have to stay vigilant to stand a chance of preventing new substances from appearing on the streets. The report from Jersey comes amid rising use of synthetic drugs in Europe and serves as a reminder of the damage caused by these substances, which are often mistakenly believed to be safe due to their legality.

What Is Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana is a type of “designer” drug, substances that are synthesized specifically to skirt drug laws and exploit legal loopholes. It’s commonly referred to as “spice” or “K2” in the U.S., consisting of plant matter that—contrary to claims on the packaging—is inactive but sprinkled with designer cannabinoids (chemicals like those found in cannabis) to create effects when the substance is consumed. Not only does this allow manufacturers to mislead consumers into thinking they are buying a “natural” product, the presentation of the synthetic drugs as an alternative to marijuana leads people to believe the risks are equivalent to those of pot. This is far from the truth. The synthetic cannabinoids typically interact with the same parts of the brain as marijuana, but the effects more intense and unpredictable. This issue is compounded by the fact that in any given pack of “spice,” it’s often unclear which chemicals are included, and their quantities can vary notably. In other words, you don’t know what you’re getting, how much of it you’re getting or what it might do to you.

CHMINACA ‘100 Times Stronger’ Than Marijuana

According to a spokesman for the Alcohol and Drug Service in Jersey, CHMINACA has “similar effects to cannabis, but is 100 times stronger.” A paper from the U.S. provides some information about CHMINACA, finding that it appeared on the drug market prior to the existence of any scientific papers discussing its safety or toxicity. While it has similar properties to marijuana, the paper references hundreds of reports about the drug from across various states between 2010 and 2014, as well as a minimum of four deaths and multiple overdoses involving the substance. There are many currently identified risks with synthetic marijuana, including convulsions, increases in blood pressure and even psychotic symptoms such as anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations. Data on the effects of CHMINACA overdose specifically point to symptoms such as seizures, delirium, coma, heart attack, trouble breathing and an altered state of consciousness. The Jersey Alcohol and Drug Service spokesman did add that while “there are currently no deaths or hospitalizations in Jersey due to the drug, it is important to raise awareness that it is circulating.” The director of the service, Michael Gafoor, commented, “This is one of the most dangerous synthetic cannabinoids that we have seen in Jersey so far because of the unpredictable and potentially fatal effects it can have.”

Legal Status of CHMINACA

In the U.S., CHMINACA first appeared in February 2014, and despite wide-ranging steps being taken to tackle designer drugs, the substance was technically legal at first. It wasn’t until December 2014, after the four deaths mentioned in the report and numerous emergency room visits, that the substance was outlawed. In the U.K., Jersey authorities have made the import or export of the drug illegal, but the law in the U.K. overall has yet to catch up. While changes in 2009 made synthetic cannabis illegal and made it easier to ban new versions of the designer drug, novel substances with differing chemical structures are continually appearing on the market. Governments around the world are left to play whack-a-mole with these potentially dangerous chemicals until a better approach is found.

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