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With side effects ranging from catatonia to profound anxiety and vomiting, it’s clear synthetic marijuana does not offer the therapeutic benefits of the real medicinal plant. Still, low cost, wide availability, and an ambiguous legal status are leading more consumers to light up. What exactly is synthetic marijuana, and what information should you share?

“The most important fact to understand about synthetic marijuana is that it isn’t just one thing. It’s more like a category of things, a family of man-made chemicals that have one major characteristic in common: They interact with the same cell receptors in the brain as THC, the active ingredient in natural cannabis. In theory, someone could ingest these chemicals in any number of ways, but manufacturers play up the association between their products and traditional marijuana by spraying their chemicals onto diced-up dry plant matter that can be sold in baggies and smoked.”

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How synthetic cannabinoids impact smokers depends on several factors including the chemicals used in these products and how those chemicals are sprayed. Often imprecise distribution results in products with “hot spots” where the chemical concentration is dangerously high.

“It’s definitely more dangerous than regular marijuana, which has mellowing properties that synthetic cannabinoids don’t have. While drugs like heroin and methamphetamine cause far more deaths in absolute terms, the number of emergency room visits involving synthetic cannabinoids does seem to be growing.” Where did synthetic marijuana come from? Meet the chemist who unwittingly created them.

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash