Synthetic cannabinoids

Legal Highs2

Also known as

Spice, Black Mamba, Pandora’s Box, Clockwork Orange, Annihilation, Exodus, Exodus Damnation, Blue Cheese, Mary Joy, Devil’s Weed, Amsterdam Gold, K2, Abyss, Psyclone, Magic Dragon.


  • Synthetic cannabinoids are man-made chemical compounds that mimic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
  • The effects of smoking synthetic cannabinoids can vary considerably. They can be dependent on the person, their state of mind, other substances involved, as well as the potency of the brand.
  • The desired effects of synthetic cannabinoids are similar to those of cannabis intoxication. This includes a dreamy euphoria, relaxation, altered consciousness and hilarity.
  • Unwanted effects may include paranoia, panic attacks, hallucinations, aggression/loss of control, nausea, memory loss, disorientation, irregular heart beat, high blood pressure, seizures.


  • Synthetic cannabinoids are usually dissolved in a solvent and then sprayed onto dried herbal matter to make a smoking mixture.
  • The smoking mixtures then appear in small, colourful packages  with various brand names and labelled almost always as ‘not for human consumption’.

Method of use

Synthetic cannabinoids are used in a similar way to cannabis. They are smoked, often mixed with tobacco in joints, bongs and pipes.



  • As these compounds are so new, we know very little about what risks they pose or what causes specific observed symptoms.
  • Researchers have concluded that synthetic cannabinoids are potentially more harmful than cannabis. They fully saturate the brain’s cannabinoid receptors (compared to cannabis, which only partially saturates them), and it is therefore possible to “overdose” – something which is very rare when using cannabis.
  • A number of deaths and emergency hospitalisations in the UK have been linked to the use of synthetic cannabinoids.
  • Taking synthetic cannabinoids may trigger or exacerbate mental health problems.
  • Adverse effects may include severe panic attacks and hallucinations which can be very frightening.
  • Using synthetic cannabinoids has been linked to heart problems.
  • It is difficult to predict the strength of the different products.

Keeping safe

  • If you choose to use synthetic cannabinoids, then use in a safe environment and in the company of someone you trust. Ideally, this person will not have taken the substance themselves and will be in a position to get help if things go wrong.
  • Take small amounts first to test strength and effects; start low and go slow.
  • The use of synthetic cannabinoids with alcohol or other substances should be avoided.
  • Avoid using synthetic cannabinoids if you are aware of any existing mental health problems.
  • Be aware that the same brand, (e.g. Black Mamba), may contain different substances. Therefore, treat each substance as new.
  • The synthetic cannabinoid packet or sachet should be shaken before use to ensure an even strength of the substance.
  • Be very cautious if using a bong as it is hard to regulate intake and easy to take too much.
  • If you experience a sustained period of fast heart rate or experience chest pains then call an ambulance.

Legal status

  • Many synthetic cannabinoids are controlled as a Class B under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which means they are illegal to possess and/or supply. Possession of illegal research chemicals can result in a prison sentence of up to five years and/or an unlimited fine. Supplying illegal synthetic cannabinoids can result in a prison sentence of up to 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
  • Although some synthetic cannabinoids have been legal in the past, since the Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect on 26th May 2016, it is now illegal to supply or import any synthetic cannabioids for human consumption. Possession will not be an offence for those which are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, except in prisons.