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Cannabis shortage may have caused rise in synthetic cannabinoid use, says report

A new report highlights the public health and social risks posed by synthetic cannabinoids

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Synthetic cannabinoids

A new report by the EMCDDA highlights the public health and social risks posed by synthetic cannabinoids across Europe.

The EU drugs agency, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) warns that synthetic cannabinoids are widely available across Europe and place users at ‘high risk of poisoning.

It notes that the pandemic did nothing to stop or slow the production of these cannabinoids. However, the researchers did note that a cannabis shortage may have led to people trying synthetic cannabinoids. Sometimes products were mislabeled in an attempt to get users to try higher-THC products. Synthetic cannabinoids can be shipped as bulk powders from companies in China to Europe, where they are made into finished products for sale.

The authors wrote: “An increase in reports of cannabis adulterated with synthetic cannabinoids has raised concerns. It is not known what could be driving this development but it could possibly reflect both shortages of cannabis linked to the pandemic or, possibly in some countries, criminal groups exploiting the availability of low-THC cannabis products, which may be difficult to distinguish from cannabis sold on the drug market.”

“Any scenario where people unwittingly consume synthetic cannabinoids is worrying given the toxicity of some of these substances, as illustrated by an outbreak of over 20 deaths related to the synthetic cannabinoid 4F-MDMB-BICA in 2020.”

Lockdown did lead to an increase in home cultivation of cannabis as people were stuck at home experiencing potential shortages. Cannabis remains the most commonly tried drug with 47.6 million men and 30.9 females.

Speaking with Cannabis Health News, Irish advocate and Master of Law, Natalie O’Regan, BCL, LLM commented on the report: “Synthetic cannabinoids are on the rise across Europe since the early 2000s. Synthetic cannabinoids are relatively low on cost and easily available. Increasingly synthetic cannabinoids are being found in low THC products and reports of this are increasing. Synthetic cannabinoids are far more dangerous than any naturally grown cannabinoids like those found in the cannabis plant.”

She added: “Due to the low cost of synthetic cannabinoids, large scale producers are increasingly adding this to a natural product for sale on the illegal market. The result of this means consumers are being mis-sold a synthetic product as a natural product. There have been many reports of serious side effects from synthetic cannabinoids due to the high level of toxicity. I have received reports myself of seasoned cannabis consumers having serious side effects due to the presence of synthetic cannabinoids.
The rise in synthetic cannabinoids across Europe in my opinion can be linked to prohibition. Cannabis consumers, when they have a choice, would rarely if ever choose a synthetic product over a natural product.”

“Unfortunately, due to the continued cannabis prohibition consumers are often left with no choice but to purchase from the illegal market and gamble with the consequences. If the EU or any other country are serious about reducing the harms of synthetic cannabinoids, the only way is to legalise cannabis and allow people to grow their own. I bet that the incident rate and detection rate of synthetic products would dramatically decrease. The startling report on synthetic cannabinoids and the resulting harms can solely be laid at the feet of those who advocate for continued prohibition.”

Synthetic cannabinoids: a yellow pot of CBD oil next to a bunch of green cannabis leaves

Increased THC

The report also warned that cannabis resin sold in Europe is now more potent with an increased THC content between 20 and 28 percent. This is almost twice the amount of herbal cannabis. They advise careful monitoring of the increased THC content and changes to cannabis available on the streets.  When it comes to herbal cannabis, they said there were problems posed for the police through the darknet and postal orders.

What are synthetic cannabinoids?

Synthetic cannabinoids are a large group of new psychoactive substances. They were detected in Europe in the mid-200s with names such as ‘spice’ and were sold as legal replacements for cannabis. They were discovered to be dangerous with users accidentally poisoning themselves with large doses.

Synthetic cannabinoids are usually either solid or oils before being added to dried herbs, vegetable matter or plant cuttings to make a material that resembles cannabis and can be smoked. They react with the receptors in the brain much the same way cannabis does however they are usually more potent meaning it’s easier to use too much.

The report highlights that synthetic cannabinoids are still used recreationally but their low cost and intoxicating effects have led to the availability of new products such as vape e-liquids. The use has been shown to be higher in marginalised groups such as high-risk drug users or the homeless and that it can be linked with social problems such as violence or debt.

The report added: ‘In the future, it can be expected that synthetic cannabinoids with high potency, and that are easy to synthesise, will continue to be introduced into the market.’

Read more: Luxembourg to spend 3 million euro on medical cannabis

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