Legally High? The Low Down On Synthetic Cannabinoids – Part 1

Harm Reduction
Prohibition has done nothing to stop peoples desire to change their consciousness. The banning of one substance has lead to the innovation of new compounds but they are sold as “not for human consumption” and have no strength information to safely dosage. With increasing headlines surrounding the subject we take a more detailed look at cannabinoids made in the lab and the difference between using these new synthetics or the real thing. 

Cannabis
 is the most popular and widely used illegal drug in the world. Despite its relatively benign nature, its myriad of accepted medicinal uses, and recent moves to decriminalise and legalise the drug cannabis remains illegal to possess in almost every country on our planet. Even scientists who wish to research cannabis in the laboratory have difficulties acquiring an expensive license to work with the drug regardless of whether or not they plan to use it on human subjects.
Why Synthetics?
The laws against cannabis have led to the development of synthetic cannabinoid chemicals that act in a similar way to cannabis so that researchers can find out more about how actual cannabis works in the human brain without having to jump through legislative hoops or pay thousands in licence fees. Researchers who have created or worked with these chemicals publish their results in scientific journals and in time, some of these chemicals end up in smoking mixtures sold as alternatives to cannabis and in “legal highs”. Out of all new synthetic drugs found in 2013 one third analysed in a lab were found to be formulated cannabinoids.
Synthetic Cannabinoids Europe

People buy and use legal cannabinoid chemicals for a variety of reasons. Some are unable to source reasonably priced, good quality cannabis. Others wish to avoid the dangers associated with illegal drugs, or avoid the legal consequences should they be caught in possession of an illegal drug. However very few, if any, synthetic cannabinoids have undergone any proper human trials, which concerns researchers like John W. Huffman, after whom the JWH series of cannabinoid compounds is named. He states these drugs were never meant for human consumption and have never been tested in human subjects. 
‘Prof Huffman says the compounds are highly addictive, cause hallucinations and psychotic events, and they are known to make people suicidal.  “They were only developed as research tools, it was simply pure science, basic science,” says Prof Huffman. “They were never intended for any use or medicinal purposes or human use or animal use, for that matter.”‘ 
The Difference
Cannabis produces an abundence of terpene’s, flavonoids (smell and taste) and cannabinoids all within the resin produced in the glandular trichome that are often referred to as crystals. Different cannabis has different effects because of the combination between they types of cannabinoid and terpene so while some might make you sleepy others can make you alert and excited. The plant has been used by mankind for thousands of years and is regarded amongst the medical pharmacopoeias throughout history as one of the most widely used medicines.
The human Endocannabinoid System has evolved alongside the cannabis plant and the naturally balanced cannabis profile acts on a both the CB1, CB2 and GRP45 receptors as well as many more we are still learning about. This balanced effect that nature provides is called the entourage effect and is tipped to be the next big thing in medicine to treat many serious conditions. 
Cannabis receptors in the human bodyNatural cannabis rarely causes hospitalisation, whereas admissions brought about by the use of cannabinoid synthetics is worryingly high and increasing. Many more people are admitted to Accident & Emergency departments suffering from the symptoms of legal cannabinoid intoxication than from illegal cannabis intoxication.This is because synthetic cannabinoids are sold as a single molecule formula and are known as full agonists, meaning they act on one receptor type activating it across the hole human brain and body where the receptor sites are located, this brings a full list of psychoactive effects that may not be expected with a comparative dose of herbal cannabis or hashish.
The effects are often very powerful, producing the kinds of hallucinations normally only seen when a large amount of cannabis is ingested orally or through the use of more powerful psychedelic drugs. When effects like this are unexpected, they can leave the user in a very frightened state which can lead to more serious physical and emotional health crises. There appears to be an increased risk of psychotic breaks on synthetic cannabinoids compared to cannabis itself with one study published in the Human Psycology Journal referring to the condition as spiceophrennia. Seizures, convulsions, liver damage, coma and brain damage are also rare but potential side effects of an overdose of synthetic cannabinoids, but as research is at its infancy, little information about how synthetic cannabinoids cause harm or death has been published. 
The Risks
Speculation that the inhalation of a burning chemical might be much more likely to harm the lungs than cannabis has also appeared. In the correct dosages, cannabinoid synthetics produce the familiar conversational and relaxation effects produced by cannabis, but it might suffice to say regardless of the legal risks, smoking actual, illegal cannabis is a far more sensible proposition than smoking legal synthetic cannabinoids. However, the popularity of synthetic cannabinoidworldwide indicates their use is unlikely to abate.   
There is little doubt that the illegality of herbal cannabis and hashish is driving the discovery of more and more cannabinoid synthetics, not just by Legal High and Research Chemical suppliers for the street, but also for use in laboratories all over the world by researchers eager to examine the action of cannabis in humans.
Drug policy reform experts around the world agree that the laws against certain drugs are what has lead to an increase in synthetic ones at an ever multiplying rate.

“Synthetic cannabis might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of cannabis reform. “We currently have an unbelievably stupid situation where people can buy fake cannabis that’s more dangerous. It’s utterly ridiculous. “It’s absolutely the worst of all worlds.” Steve Rolles – Transform Drugs Police Foundation  (Huffington Post Interview)

The only thing likely to ease the risk of harm to people who use legal cannabinoids is to make proper cannabis more widely available for medicinal and recreational use, particularly as it is almost always younger people who have trouble sourcing or affording good cannabis, or wish to avoid the legal pitfalls of seeking an illegal drug. Governments around the world should consider how their laws are forcing younger drug users to take greater risks with their lives and health than necessary in pursuit of the effects of an illegal drug that should never have been banned in the first place.
by Si Massey

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