What is Synthetic Cannabis?

24 March 2023
Ever smoked synthetic marijuana? Find out how to distinguish between real and fake cannabis.
24 March 2023
10 min read
What is Synthetic Cannabis?

Read more
  • 1. How to differentiate between synthetic and natural cannabis?
  • 1. a. Appearance
  • 1. b. Touch
  • 1. c. Smell
  • 1. d. Taste
  • 2. Dangers of synthetic cannabis
  • 3. Other synthetic drugs
  • 4. In conclusion

You’ve probably never heard of it, but Synthetic Cannabis has made its entry into the market since 2002. It’s sold as an alternative to cannabis. Also known as fake weed, fake marijuana, K2, and Spice, some people get confused between real and synthetic marijuana. If you want to know more and have wondered what is synthetic cannabis, read on as we unravel the mystery. Like everything else in life, there’s a difference between something fake and something original. Although the name “Synthetic marijuana” suggests it’s an alternative to cannabis, there’s a world of difference between the two.

There was a time when cannabis was illegal in many locations. Later when it was made legal, miscreants spread rumors that even synthetic cannabis is legal. As a result, more people used it and had to bear severe consequences. Unlike cannabis that has been responsible for 0 casualties, synthetic marijuana has killed a few people. Simply put, synthetic cannabis is a hard-core designer drug – nothing more, nothing less. Just before it’s called marijuana, do not assume that it works like the plant. It’s anything but natural and is usually created in labs – just like other drugs like cocaine and meth. Originally, it was made to help scientists study the depths of the cannabinoid system. However, it was misused, and the result is that it’s available on the streets now.

1. How to differentiate between synthetic and natural cannabis?

If you’ve ever used real cannabis, this one shouldn’t be that difficult. You already know what the original looks, feels, and smells like, so you can differentiate between the two. Here are a few pointers:


Traditional cannabis buds look like little nuggets of resin. You’ve definitely used them, haven’t you? They look like little sugar-coated leaves and flowers compressed together. No matter where you purchase real cannabis, they will be sold as whole buds. All buds may not look exactly alike (even if they are of the same strain) but they are certainly from one plant and that’s cannabis.


What is synthetic cannabis: appearance

Synthetic weed usually comes ground up, not in flower form.

On the other hand, synthetic cannabis is ground up already. They appear like leaves and bits of many plants just thrown together. Sometimes, it looks like grass, but at other times it looks like a potpourri of different plants.


Real cannabis is dank and moist. The buds will not be too moist, but they won’t be dry to the touch either. The texture is somewhere in between. You’ll also feel the stickiness when you touch the buds – something every user loves. The stickiness is due to the trichomes found in the buds.


What is synthetic cannabis: touch

Fake weed will not have trichomes, so make sure to keep a close eye on your weed to prevent smoking synthetic cannabis.

Terpenes are the essential oils of the cannabis plant and aren’t unique to cannabis alone. This is one reason why cannabis offers so many medicinal benefits. Synthetic cannabis doesn’t produce any sort of resin. It isn’t sticky or dank. On the contrary, it’s dry and shapeless.


Pure cannabis smells differently depending on the strains. For instance, Green Crack smells like mangoes while Zkittlez emits a distinct fragrance of fruits. Some may even smell like unwashed socks or rotten cheese! It all depends on the terpenes. Moreover, anybody that has ever used real marijuana will agree that the fragrance plays a key role in identifying high-quality cannabis.

Synthetic marijuana smells like chemicals. Some strains of pure cannabis like Sour Diesel also emit a chemical-like fragrance but it’s easy for your nose to distinguish between the two. K2 can never smell like real marijuana no matter how hard they try in the lab. A little funky and musky – sounds good, but doesn’t smell good at all.


It’s always a treat to take a deep hit of your favorite strain and enjoy the combination of rich flavors on your tongue. Like the fragrance, the flavor also depends on the strain and the way the herb was grown. But, regardless of the strain, the flavors are usually mind-blowing and make you yearn for more.


What is synthetic cannabis: taste

Trichomes contain terpenes which is what gives marijuana its unique flavors and aromas.

But, synthetic marijuana tastes like a bunch of chemicals thrown together in a hurry. It may also taste like burnt grass at times. The taste is so weird that you may end up coughing not because of the “high” it produces but due to the gagging feeling you experience.

2. Dangers of synthetic cannabis

Synthetic cannabis produces effects very similar to THC – tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is a cannabinoid present naturally in the cannabis plant and is responsible for the psychoactive effects you feel when you ingest or smoke cannabis. However, THC, despite its psychotropic effects have a range of medicinal benefits and is used in high doses to help with various illnesses. The same cannot be held true for synthetic cannabis. Once you smoke synthetic K2 or Spice as it’s usually called, you may experience hallucinations in a matter of hours. The high may not last as long as the high you feel when you smoke real cannabis. To top it off, you may feel a tightness in your chest and lungs long after you’ve smoked because it’s quite difficult to get rid of. Like regular cannabis, fake cannabis can also be smoked, vaped or mixed with edibles.

But instead of gaining medical benefits, you’ll only feel a heaviness that cannot be described in words. Original cannabis produces a cerebral high and you actually enjoy the way it takes your stress away but fake cannabis only makes you feel heavy and sluggish. Note that real buds also get your creative juices flowing while fake cannabis does no such thing. As mentioned already, fake cannabis works like THC. Just like THC binds to the cannabinoid receptors found in the human body, it latches on to CB1 receptors and produces a euphoria that’s eerily similar to THC. However, they bind with a higher affinity compared to pure THC.

Fake weed may produce some effects that make you feel like consuming real cannabis, but the problem is that it’s much stronger than real THC. Made primarily to help researchers, it didn’t take too long for unscrupulous manufacturers to make their own version and release it into the market. Fake weed is usually prepared by combining several solvents including acetone and high-proof alcohol. No wonder your throat feels like it’s on fire when you smoke it! During the manufacturing process, it’s pretty easy for somebody to mess up and spray too many chemicals on the plant material. This is why you may feel like you’re smoking a chemical-laden joint when you’re smoking fake cannabis!


What is synthetic cannabis: the dangers

Fake weed can produce several harmful side effects.

Due to the potency, headaches, blackouts, panic attacks, and kidney failure can be expected. Basically, you’re consuming too many chemicals at once if you’re smoking or ingesting fake weed. Also known as nitro, syncanns or synthetic cannabinoids, it can wreak havoc on you and produce side effects including:

  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Breathlessness
  • Bout of coughing
  • Muscle spasms
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Vomiting

And a lot more...in extreme cases, you may also experience a heart attack. Yes, it can be fatal. From strokes to seizures and psychosis, a lot can happen if you meddle with fake cannabis. The rates of emergency department visits and long hospital admissions are much, much higher than with natural cannabis. There are a few reasons behind this, but it is mostly thanks to the fact that it can be synthesized to be up to 200 times stronger than regular weed. It is also a totally unregulated field, and while governments worldwide are continually banning the chemicals that make up synthetic cannabis the producers only have to make tiny changes to the chemical structure to skirt these laws. 

These unscrupulous synthetic drug producers are constantly one step ahead of the law, and they also sometimes add non-cannabinoid chemicals to increase the levels of psychoactivity in their products without labeling in any way whatsoever. In 2009, at least 9 people passed away after ingesting  a synthetic cannabinoid product called "Krypton." It was found to include  O-desmethyl tramadol, a synthetic opioid agonist and analgesic drug. There have also been reports of some blends containing psychoactive alkaloids, psychedelic tryptamine, and even myristicin and asarone.

And then there are the addictive issues that plague synthetic cannabinoid users. Continued abuse of synthetic weed can lead to a wide range of issues, with some medical professionals that believe that the addiction can be harder to break than that of opioids. There is an endless list of stories of patients entering psychotic states for weeks at a time, and the risk of seizures, if the user quits cold turkey, seems to be alarmingly high. So, in our humble opinion, there is really no place in modern society for these types of synthetic drugs, especially when the research clearly shows the medicinal benefits of the natural compounds. Instead of risking your health, you can grab some seeds, throw them in the ground, enjoy the cultivation process, and then the fruits of your labor!

3. Other Synthetic Drugs

So, there it is. everything you need to know about synthetic cannabis products, and why you should steer well clear of them. But what about synthetic versions of other popular recreational drugs? And how about synthetic drugs that are a class of their own, and not trying to necessarily copy an already popular non-synthetic option? Are these a thing, and do they come with the same dangers as synthetic cannabis? Let's find out...

Synthetic Drugs Explained

It goes without saying that the day-to-day lives of the vast majority of people living in western countries are filled with synthetic drugs. Whether it be a couple of aspirin tablets the morning after a larger-than-usual night, a pill to help you breathe easier, a pill that stops you from getting pregnant, a pill that stops you from having an allergic reaction, a shot of syrup that soothes that lingering cough, the list is never ending  - it's more than likely that you regularly come across synthetic drugs. But when we look at the recreational use of artificial drugs, these are a whole different kettle of fish. Until recently, the majority of such drugs have been developed with one purpose in mind – to produce a 'legal high'. 

Synthetic drugs, in their simplest form, are created artificially and specifically for the purpose of getting people high. They are typically produced in laboratories using a range of chemical processes and potentially hazardous substances such as solvents and toxic metals. The end result is a highly potent, chemically altered substance that can produce ridiculously strong psychotropic effects.

Before we go any further, let's just quickly state that, yes - recreational drugs like ecstasy, LSD, cocaine, etc. are all synthetic drugs. What we are looking at today is the new generation of synthetic drugs, the ones that have been designed to mimic the effects and properties of traditional recreational drugs without actually being illegal. And just like synthetic cannabis products, the production and distribution of these chemicals are totally legal and fully unregulated in the countries where they are manufactured. The more well-known synthetic drugs have been around for decades, but there is a whole host of newer substances out there that can be just as dangerous or even more so. These include:


  • Synthetic Cathinones (Bath Salts) 
  • Synthetic Phenethylamines (2C-x Drugs) 
  • Piperazines (BZP) 
  • Novel Benzodiazepines
  • Methadone (Mcat or Meow Meow)


In many respects, the dangers posed by these drugs are similar to those of synthetic cannabis products. They can be incredibly addictive, they can cause severe adverse reactions like seizures, and dangerously high or low blood pressure (and tachycardia - irregular heartbeats) which can lead to heart attacks, and psychosis. The fact that the countries where they are produced hold no regulation over the chemicals used means that there is no way of knowing exactly what is being ingested, making the dangers even more pronounced.

And then, to add to the danger even further, all the producers have to do if one particular chemical is made illegal, is to just slightly alter its molecular structure of it, and a brand new chemical is born that has very similar (but slightly different) effects that haven’t been tested for safety or effectiveness and are once again totally legal. These drugs are often sold over the counter in gas stations, smoke shops, and online, making them accessible to anyone and everyone, and very easily obtained.

So, in short - yes, synthetic drugs are absolutely a thing. The bottom line is this - if you are considering using a synthetic drug then think twice. The dangers are astronomical, and the effects are unpredictable. Even if you do educate yourself on what you are considering taking, there are zero guarantees that what you are buying and ingesting is what it says it is on the packaging. With the constant game of cat and mouse that the producers play with lawmakers, the chemical makeup of these drugs is changing faster than ever before, and so the risk is becoming greater and greater. Don’t risk it. Stay safe and be smart. The best advice? Stay clear and stay away. Your physical health (and your sanity) is always worth more than a cheap high. Stick with the sticky-icky, my friends!

4. In Conclusion

While real marijuana is used to treat illnesses, fake marijuana can make you fall prey to several problems.And as with all other unregulated markets, there is really no way to know what you are putting into your body when you smoke synthetic weed. We already know some of the horrible side effects they can produce short-term, but only the big man upstairs knows what sort of long-term issues they may cause 20 or 30 years down the line for users. In this day and age, with the almost endless list of amazing genetics at your fingertips and so much information available, why would you smoke anything but beautiful, natural cannabis! Always exercise caution and purchase cannabis only through a reputed source or grow it at home!