All about synthetic cannabinoids

Nov 21, 2020

Have you heard of synthetic cannabinoids? These substances are also called cannabinds or synncanns and go by other names like K2 or Spice. Synthetic cannabinoids are nothing like natural cannabinoids, and in fact, can be quite dangerous. They are “molecular impersonators” of natural cannabinoids. This article aims to provide comprehensive information on these perilous synthetic cannabinoids.

There is a massive misconception that synthetic cannabinoids mimic the effects of real cannabis. They do not. Rumors abound that synthetic cannabis is just like the real thing and that it is also legal. Neither of those is true. A synthetic cannabinoid is a chemically engineered analog to a cannabinoid.

The endocannabinoid system

To better understand the differences between natural and synthetic cannabinoids, it is essential to understand the human endocannabinoid system (ECS), the body’s built-in system of receptors that serve to keep the body balanced in homeostasis. This system regulates critical aspects of our biology, such as sleep, appetite, and mood. The ECS keeps the body balanced within a narrow range—body temperature, blood sugar levels, and other functions.

The ECS has its own endocannabinoid chemical substances and receptors that endocannabinoids bind to. A common endocannabinoid is anandamide. Cannabinoid receptors are located on the surfaces of cells and in the brain. Endocannabinoids bind with receptors to activate specific functions to keep the body balanced. As it turns out, plant cannabinoids (called phytocannabinoids) like CBD can also trigger these receptors.

The potency of synthetics

Synthetic cannabinoids are much more potent than either endocannabinoids and plant cannabinoids like CBD in two ways.

First, synthetic cannabinoids are much more potent. The term potency refers to the amount of the synthetic cannabinoid needed to activate a receptor. An artificial 50 times more potent means consuming 10mg is virtually like consuming 50 times that amount, or 500mg.

Synthetics also have greater efficacy, meaning the maximal activation of the receptor in response to the synthetic cannabinoid. Rather than functioning like on-off switches, receptors are more like dimmer switches—the higher a drug’s efficacy, the “brighter” the receptor. A “bulb with medium brightness” refers to a partial agonist, meaning a substance that partially turns on a receptor; partial agonists are natural cannabinoids like CBD derived from a plant. 

A “fully bright” bulb occurs with harmful synthetic cannabinoids, which are full agonists.

Endocannabinoids like anandamide and plant cannabinoids like CBD is “dimmer,” meaning they don’t fully activate the receptors. Synthetic cannabinoids, on the other hand, bind to the same receptors with a much higher affinity. Therefore the synthetics can be up to 100 times more powerful than natural cannabinoids.

Why people use synthetics

Many people turn to synthetic cannabinoids for some short-term and short-sighted advantages. Many people think that because recreational use of natural cannabis is illegal in a particular state, it is a good idea to turn to synthetic cannabis as an alternative. Think again. Another reason people use synthetic cannabinoids is that these drugs do not show up on a drug test. None of this is worth the risk of severe long-term side effects that the use of synthetic cannabinoids is associated with.

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