Drug A - Z

Synthetic Cannabis

Synthetic cannabinoids are smokable products containing varieties of plant matter that have been infused with synthetic cannabinomimetic substances. Examples include the brand Kronic. They act in a similar way to cannabinoids naturally found in cannabis such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Therefore these products were intended to be a legal alternative to cannabis, but are now banned.

Synthetic marijuana acts on the same brain cell receptors as natural marijuana, but are more likely to cause hallucinations and heart problems. Synthetic marijuana has also been linked to an increased risk of seizures (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=synthetic-marijuana-harms). “We know the acute clinical effects; we don’t know the chronic effects’ – Dr Leo Schep, a toxicologist at Otago University’s National Poisons Centre 70% of participants in the Australian study reported at least one negative side effect.

These included (but were not limited to): Decreased motor coordination (39%) Fast or irregular heart beat (33%) Disassociation (22%) Dizziness (20%) Paranoia (18%) Psychosis (4%) (Of Substance Magazine, ‘Cannabis: A potent problem’. Vol. 11 No 1. March 2013)

Use of synthetic cannabis (in NZ) has also been linked to Psychosis, Renal failure, and Heart failure, with scarily high rates of seizures among users (18%). In Timaru, we know of young people who have been hospitalized after using synthetics, and these effects can occur a couple of days after use. The inventor of synthetic cannabinoids, Emeritus Professor John Huffman, has publically declared his concern over their use, saying they can lead to serious psychological problems which may be irreversible.

Information is limited about the likely effects of many synthetic cannabinoids substance because of their recent emergence on the market. A number of different plants are often listed on the packaging of smoking mixtures, but it appears that many are not present and that the packaging cannot be trusted. The chemical composition of synthetic cannabinoids and the ingredients of smoking mixtures are changing all the time, so you can never be sure what you’re getting, how powerful it is and how it could affect you.

Long-term effects

The National Poisons Centre believes the increased availability of synthetic cannabinoids has resulted in more calls from doctors and ambulance officers reporting breathing problems, paranoia and recurring psychotic episodes.

Reports from a New Zealand Clinical worker state that the mental states of at least five forensic patients has deteriorated significantly after using Spice and/or Kronic products. This has manifested as the sudden re-emergence of psychosis; predominantly agitation, disorganisation and delusional beliefs. Regular use of products containing stronger synthetic cannabinoids may increase the risk of later developing psychotic illnesses including schizophrenia.

The inventor of synthetic cannabinoids, Emeritus Professor John Huffman, has publically declared his concern over their use, saying they can lead to serious psychological problems and it is not known if these are irreversible.


A 2009 report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction suggests tolerance to some synthetic cannabinoids may develop fairly fast. This is a concern because users may be at risk of developing dependence. Taking these substances in bigger quantities, more regularly could increase in tolerance to both the effect and duration of the drugs.


There is limited evidence around the dependence, addiction and overdose risk from synthetic cannabinoid use. However, as with cannabis, it is very likely that dependence is a real risk for users.

Dependence on synthetic cannabinoids will be influenced by a number of factors, including how long you’ve been using it, how much you use and whether you are just more prone to become dependent. If you’ve only been using for a short while there should be no problem stopping but with continued regular use of synthetic cannabinoids it may become more difficult.

A person may find they have difficulty stopping regular use and may experience psychological and physical withdrawals when they do stop. The withdrawals can include cravings for synthetic cannabinoids, irritability, mood changes, loss of appetite, weight loss, difficulty sleeping and even sweating, shaking and diarrhea.

When to get immediate help

Go to the nearest hospital Emergency Department (call 111 if you can’t get someone to hospital) if a person shows any of the following symptoms after using psychoactive substances:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling cut off from the world
  • Chest pain
  • Racing heart rate
  • Difficult to rouse or wake
  • Lowered consciousness
  • Shaking and twitching
  • Rapid eyeball movement
  • Non-stop vomiting
  • Extreme anxiety and panic
  • Fainting
  • Loss of speech and eyesight
  • Paranoia
  • Loss of contact with reality
  • Seizures.

What can I expect if I stop using?

If you have been using psychoactive substances regularly and you stop, you are likely to experience withdrawal (also known as detox). Withdrawal can cause symptoms that could last for several weeks or even months.

Most people can cope with mild withdrawal by knowing what to expect, taking extra care of themselves (such as resting and drinking water) and possibly using natural remedies to help with sleep and agitation. Most people will complete withdrawal with mild to moderate symptoms.

Common withdrawal symptoms

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Sleep problems
  • Low mood
  • Heavy sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Low energy
  • Poor concentration
  • Mood swings
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Aches and pains
  • Nausea
  • Low appetite
  • Craving drugs

For more information about how to look after yourself or somebody else in withdrawal see: Managing your own withdrawal on matuaraki.org.nz

More extreme withdrawal symptoms

  • Extreme panic and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Racing heart
  • Anger
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Ongoing diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Aggression and violence
  • Confusion and memory problems

These symptoms can be very distressing and risky for people to try and manage by themselves. Addiction services are able to help people manage these symptoms and support them through.

If you have concerns about withdrawal symptoms contact your doctor or local hospital. If you think a person experiencing withdrawal is having suicidal thoughts or they have a history of feeling suicidal or low mood, ring the mental health crisis service at your local hospital.

As of 12:01am on 8 May 2014 the Psychoactive Substances Amendment Act (the Amendment Act) came into force. This gives effect to the Government’s decision to introduce legislation ending interim product approvals under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

The legislation revokes all interim product approvals and all interim retail and wholesale licences with immediate effect. Under section 88 of the Psychoactive Substances Act the Authority is issuing an urgent recall of all products that had interim product approval.

Read more at the Ministry of Health website 

There are hundreds of cannabinoid compounds and manufacturers are constantly changing compositions to produce new products.

Click here for our Frequently Asked Questions section on Synthetics.

Synthetic cannabinoids fall into seven major structural groups:

1. Naphthoylindoles (e.g. JWH-018, JWH-073)
2. Naphthylmethylindoles
3. Naphthoylprrroles
4. Naphthylmethylindenes
5. Phenylacetylindoles
6. Cyclohexylphenois (e.g. CP 47,497)
7. Classical cannabinoids (e.g. HU-210)

They are generally smoked and different blends are available offering different effects. They can be purchased in a range of quantities, for example, by the gram, ounce or pre-rolled like a ‘joint’.
There is limited evidence surrounding the harms and prevalence of these products due to their recent introduction to the market. As of 8th May 2014 all products that had interim approval have been banned, and it is illegal to sell or posess product.
Alternative Names
Kronic, Spice, Dream, Aroma, Tai High, K2, legal cannabis, legal pot, legal weed, herbal highs

See more info here, provided by NZ Drug Foundation.

Smoking any substance is not advisable whilst either pregnant or breastfeeding as studies have shown correlations between smoking and damage to the development of the unborn fetus.