(Yet Another) Report: Fake Weed Is Real Dangerous

About 10 percent of American teenagers report using fake weed, according to the CDC.

One tragic irony of cannabis prohibition is that the legal substitutes many people turn to are far more harmful. Dramatic “mass casualty events,” like the “zombification” of 18 people in Brooklyn, make for Hollywood-ready headlines, but a new study finds some terrifyingly real dangers of fake weed.


If it wasn’t the street people turned into zombies in Brooklyn or the many thousands of sickened users sent to emergency rooms and poison-control centers, maybe some news of out-of-control teens will finally convince you that synthetic cannabis — the mysterious blend of mostly anonymous chemicals sprayed onto plant matter and sold to you as a “legal high” — is very bad.

According to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, teens who use “K2,” “Spice” or other synthetic cannabinoids — sold under any one of its multitude of brand names — are more prone to violence, more likely to engage in or be a victim of domestic violence and more likely to carry a gun.

About 10 percent of American teenagers report using fake weed, according to data from the CDC. And while the researchers, who teamed up with the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), could not say with certainty whether it was the fake weed that caused the risky behavior or the risky behavior that led the trouble-seeking teens to try fake weed, the end result is the same: fake weed use, which is bad.

As Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency-room physician in New York City, told CBS News:

“Teens who use synthetic [substances found in marijuana] are essentially playing a game of Russian roulette.”

Which is not something most kids do these days, because it’s dangerous and dumb — like using fake weed. Which, because it’s both cheap and readily available, teens will continue to do with gusto. Because there’s one other built-in incentive: drug tests don’t find it and drug police do a bad job of interdicting — while doing a bang-up job of making sure nobody can buy legal marijuana.

The most troubling moment in recent fake-weed memory is most certainly the zombie episode in New York City, where stunned observers reported users walking around in a near-comatose state. The synthetic cannabinoid in that episode has its origins in — where else — legitimate pharmaceuticals.

As the New England Journal of Medicine observed, the fake weed in New York City, called “AK-47 24 Karat Gold,” had a synthetic cannabinoid originally developed by Pfizer.

Pfizer never used the cannabinoid itself — and it was never tested on humans — but the patent for the fake cannabinoid is public, and the chemists responsible for figuring out what chemical cocktail to spray on lawn clippings next apparently scours public patents for inspiration.

Suffice to say they don’t use the stuff themselves. Synthetic marijuana users scored worse than cannabis users on every test meant to measure intelligence and executive function, according to results of a study published in Europe. In addition to poorer memories, bad word recall and inaccurate problem-solving, fake weed users also had “higher ratings of depression and anxiety.”

Possibly the worst thing about synthetic weed is that unlike cannabis, which activates a network of known receptors in the body and brain, scientists are not exactly sure how it works. Fake weed is “a highly structural diverse group of compounds, easily synthesized, which produce very dangerous adverse effects occurring by, as of yet, unknown mechanisms,” according to a review published by researchers at the University of Arkansas.

But synthetic cannabis doesn’t show up on drug tests — because drug tests look for THC metabolites. So as long as employers, schools and the prison-industrial complex continue to make life difficult for people who use real, actual weed, there will still be people who think that synthetic weed — for all its risks and total unknowns — is an adequate substitute.

TELL US, do you know someone who uses synthetic cannabis?

Chris Roberts has written about medical cannabis, drug policy, and legalization ever since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009, with bylines for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cbloggy.

3 Comments

  1. Scott

    March 18, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    I’m calling bullshit and I can prove it.

  2. C scott

    March 18, 2017 at 11:24 am

    Stop using the weed reference. Nothing about this stuff is related to weed

  3. Rich Robinson

    March 18, 2017 at 9:27 am

    I’ve seen and known quite a few people who smoke spice ( some avid users of just that ). I’ve noticed it really depends on the person to how they end up reacting to it. Ones that handle it OK just look stones all the way up to being literally zombie like, as if in some kind of trance – no awareness of their surroundings including basic speaking.

    I myself never had any bad times with it but I just didn’t really like it so it never was my thing. I can say it is instant, from it to time of high is extremely fast and heavy. There is just no wait time and the feeling is no where near cannabis, I didnt think so atleast. I did see some ones go bad though.

    One of the first was a friend that only had alittle. Completely normal cooking in the kitchen and then said my name and I turned while they just fell to the ground and passed out for a brief moment. As if nothing even happened, popped back up with no recollection to what had just occurred.

    The one besides that incident that made my mind up on fake weed, a friend went into convulsions and seized up. Luckily all of them survived and have since been off of that horrible attempt at making fake weed, bravo.

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