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A flowering cannabis plant, the most common source of cannabinoids.
A bag of Spice brand herbal incense. This contains synthetic cannabinoids which produce a similar effect to that of cannabis.

A cannabinoid is one of a class of diverse chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors on cells that alter neurotransmitter functioning in the brain. These receptor proteins include the endocannabinoids (produced naturally in the body by humans and animals),[1] the phytocannabinoids (found in cannabis and some other plants), and synthetic cannabinoids (manufactured chemically).

The most notable cannabinoid is the phytocannabinoid ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound of cannabis.[2][3] Cannabidiol (CBD) is another major constituent of the plant, representing up to 40% in extracts of the plant resin.[4] There are at least 85 different cannabinoids isolated from cannabis which exhibit varied effects.[5]

Synthetic cannabinoids encompass a variety of distinct chemical classes: the classical cannabinoids structurally related to THC; the nonclassical cannabinoids (cannabimimetics) including the aminoalkylindoles, 1,5-diarylpyrazoles, quinolines, and arylsulphonamides; and eicosanoids related to the endocannabinoids.[6][7]

Cannabinoid receptors

Before the 1980s, it was often speculated that cannabinoids produced their physiological and behavioral effects via nonspecific interactions instead of interacting with specific receptors directly. The discovery of the first cannabinoid receptors in the 1980s helped to resolve this debate. These receptors are common in animals and have been found in mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. At present, there are two known types of cannabinoid receptors, termed CB1 and CB2,[8] with mounting evidence of more.[9][10] However, the role of these interactions and how they result in the cannabinoid high experience continues to remain elusive.

Cannabinoid receptor type 1

CB1 receptors are found primarily in the brain, more specifically in the basal ganglia and in the limbic system (including the hippocampus).[11] They are also found in the cerebellum and in both male and female reproductive systems. CB1 receptors are absent in the medulla oblongata, the part of the brain stem responsible for respiratory and cardiovascular functions. Thus, there is not the risk of respiratory or cardiovascular failure that can be produced by some drugs. CB1 receptors appear to be responsible for the euphoric and anticonvulsive effects of cannabis. However, the role of these interactions and how they result in the cannabinoid high experience continues to remain elusive.

Cannabinoid receptor type 2

CB2 receptors are predominantly found in the immune system, or immune-derived cells[12] with the greatest density in the spleen. While found only in the peripheral nervous system, a report does indicate that CB2 is expressed by a subpopulation of microglia in the human cerebellum.[13] CB2 receptors appear to be responsible for the anti-inflammatory and possibly other therapeutic effects of cannabis.[14] However, the role of these interactions and how they result in the cannabinoid high experience continues to remain elusive.

Subjective effects

The effects listed below are based upon the subjective effects index and personal experiences of PsychonautWiki contributors. The listed effects should be taken with a grain of salt and will rarely (if ever) occur all at once, but heavier doses will increase the chances and are more likely to induce a full range of effects. Likewise, adverse effects become much more likely on higher doses and may include serious injury or death.

Physical effects

Visual effects

Cognitive effects

Auditory effects


Comparison of phytocannabinoids

Phytocannabinoids can be defined as any plant-derived natural product capable of either directly interacting with cannabinoid receptors or sharing chemical similarity with cannabinoids or both.

  • THC
  • CBD
  • CBN
  • CBG (Cannabigerol)
  • CBC (Cannabichromene)
  • CBL (Cannabicyclol)
  • CBV (Cannabivarin)
  • THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin)
  • CBDV (Cannabidivarin)
  • CBCV (Cannabichromevarin)
  • CBGV (Cannabigerovarin)
  • CBGM (Cannabigerol Monomethyl Ether)

Plant sources

Synthetic cannabinoids

Main article: Synthetic cannabinoid

Synthetic cannabinoids are any artificial compound which is functionally similar to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active principle of cannabis. Like THC, they bind to the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain and are often sold as legal alternatives.

Toxicity and harm potential

Unlike cannabis, there have been multiple deaths[24][25][26][27][28][29][30] associated with the repeated abuse of synthetic cannabinoids as well as serious side effects resulting from its long-term use.[31][32][33] Therefore, it is strongly discouraged to take this substance for extended periods of time or in excessive doses. Compared to cannabis and its active cannabinoid THC, the adverse effects are often much more severe and can include high blood pressure, increased heart rate, heart attacks,[34][35] agitation,[36] vomiting,[37][38][39] hallucinations,[40] psychosis,[41][42][36][43] seizures,[44][45][46] and convulsions[47][48] as well as many others. Sixteen cases of acute kidney injury resulting from synthetic cannabinoid abuse have been reported.[49] JWH-018 has also been associated with strokes in two healthy adults.[50]

It should be noted that pre-mixed, branded blends (like Spice and K2) are more dangerous than pure powder because the specific chemicals and dosages are usually unlisted as well as the potential of inconsistent areas of dense powder, leading to an overdose. As synthetic cannabinoids are active in the milligram range (with below 5mg being a common dose), it is important to use proper precautions when dosing to avoid a negative experience.

Like THC, prolonged usage of synthetic cannabinoids may increase one's disposition to mental illness and psychosis[42], particularly in vulnerable individuals with risk factors for psychotic illnesses (like a past or family history of schizophrenia).[51][52][36] It is recommended that individuals with risk factors for psychotic disorders not use synthetic cannabinoids.[53]

Although there is no valid data on the toxicity of synthetic cannabinoids so far, there is concern that the naphthalene group found in THJ-018 and some other synthetic cannabinoids may be toxic or carcinogenic.[54][55][56][57]

It is strongly recommended that one use harm reduction practices when using these drugs.

Common substances

Brand-name mystery blends

Comparison of synthetic cannabinoids

Please be aware that pre-mixed, branded blends are unreliable as they often fail to list the constituents and dosages. Many people have been hospitalised or suffered negative symptoms believing they are comparable to cannabis in potency and effects. This is not the case, and they should be avoided in favour of pure analytical samples where possible.

Naphthoylindole family

5F family

Pentylindole family

Comprehensive List

For a comprehensive list of known synthetic cannabinoid derivatives, /r/Drugs/wiki has published a respectable directory of names and links to further information.

External links


  1. The endocannabinoid system as an emerging target of pharmacotherapy ( / NCBI) |
  2. The endocannabinoid system: drug targets, lead compounds, and potential therapeutic applications ( / NCBI) |
  3. Pertwee, Roger, ed. (2005). Cannabinoids. Springer-Verlag. p. 2. ISBN 3-540-22565-X.
  6. The endocannabinoid system: drug targets, lead compounds, and potential therapeutic applications ( / NCBI) |
  7. Pertwee, Roger, ed. (2005). Cannabinoids. Springer-Verlag. p. 2. ISBN 3-540-22565-X.
  8. The endocannabinoid system as an emerging target of pharmacotherapy ( / NCBI) |
  9. Evidence for novel cannabinoid receptors | The human brain has more cannabinoid receptors than any other G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) type.
  10. Boron, Walter F.; Boulpaep, Emile L., eds. (2009). Medical Physiology: A Cellular and Molecular Approach. Saunders. p. 331. ISBN 978-1-4160-3115-4.
  11. The endocannabinoid system as an emerging target of pharmacotherapy ( / NCBI) |
  12. Is lipid signaling through cannabinoid 2 receptors part of a protective system? ( / NCBI) |
  13. Cannabinoid CB2 receptors are expressed by perivascular microglial cells in the human brain: an immunohistochemical study ( / NCBI) |
  14. Is lipid signaling through cannabinoid 2 receptors part of a protective system? ( / NCBI) |
  15. Mechoulam, R. (1984). Cannabinoids as therapeutic agents. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. ISBN 0-8493-5772-1.
  16. How Marijuana Works |
  17. How Marijuana Works |
  18. The Pharmacologic and Clinical Effects of Medical Cannabis |;jsessionid=1E004D7B7E2B5CA792E75A6E83EEC59C.f03t01
  19. The Therapeutic Potential of Cannabis and Cannabinoids |
  20. Cardiovascular Effects of Cannabis |
  21. Is Marijuana an Effective Treatment for Glaucoma? |
  22. Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of cannabinoids Treatment for Chronic Pain |
  23. Cannabinoids for treatment of chronic non-cancer pain; a systematic review of randomized trials |
  24. Brents, L. K.; Reichard, E. E.; Zimmerman, S. M.; Moran, J. H.; Fantegrossi, W. E.; Prather, P. L. (2011). "Phase I hydroxylated metabolites of the K2 synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018 retain in vitro and in vivo cannabinoid 1 receptor affinity and activity". PLoS ONE 6 (7) ( / NCBI) |
  25. Coroner: Lamar Jack ingested chemical found in fake marijuana before he died ( |
  26. Coffman, K. (6 September 2013). "Colorado probes three deaths possibly linked to synthetic marijuana". Reuters (Denver). |
  27. Perspectives of drugs: synthetic cannabinoids in Europe (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction |
  28. Westin AA, Frost J, Brede WR, Gundersen PO, Einvik S, Aarset H, Slørdal L. “Sudden Cardiac Death Following Use of the Synthetic Cannabinoid MDMB-CHMICA”. J Anal Toxicol. 2016 Jan 19;40(1):86-7. |
  29. Adamowicz P. “Fatal intoxication with synthetic cannabinoid MDMB-CHMICA”. Forensic Sci Int. 2016 Mar;. |
  30. Synthetic Cannabinoid–Related Illnesses and Deaths |
  31. Vardakou, I; Pistos, C; Spiliopoulou, Ch (2010). "Spice drugs as a new trend: Mode of action, identification and legislation". Toxicology Letters 197 (3): 157–62. ( / NCBI) |
  32. Auwärter, V.; et al. (2009). "'Spice' and other herbal blends: harmless incense or cannabinoid designer drugs?". Journal of mass spectrometry : JMS 44 (5) |
  33. Toxicological Findings of Synthetic Cannabinoids in Recreational Users |
  34. Mir, A; Obafemi, A; Young, A; Kane, C (December 2011). "Myocardial infarction associated with use of the synthetic cannabinoid k2.". Pediatrics 128 (6) |
  35. Acute myocardial infarction, associated with the use of a synthetic adamantyl-cannabinoid: a case report ( / NCBI) |
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 A Teenager With Agitation: Higher Than She Should Have Climbed - Pediatric Emergency Care: June 2010 - Volume 26 - Issue 6 - pp 462-465 |
  37. T. "Extreme Nausea, Incoherent: An Experience with JWH-018 (ID 84443)". Oct 12, 2010. |
  38. Exdrugaddict. "Playing With Fire: An Experience with Spice (ID 90178)". Dec 16, 2013. |
  39. Boss Lok. "Non-Allergic Adverse Reaction: An Experience with Spice and Synthetic Cannabinoids ('Drill') (ID 85853)". Oct 12, 2010. |
  40. Jeanna Bryner (March 3, 2010). "Fake Weed, Real Drug: K2 Causing hallucinations in Teens". LiveScience. |
  41. Every-Palmer, S (2010). "Warning: Legal synthetic cannabinoid-receptor agonists such as JWH-018 may precipitate psychosis in vulnerable individuals". Addiction 105 (10): 1859–60. ( / NCBI) |
  42. 42.0 42.1 Causal association between cannabis and psychosis: examination of the evidence - The British Journal of Psychiatry Jan 2004, 184 (2) 110-117 |
  43. Müller, H.; Sperling, W.; Köhrmann, M.; Huttner, H.; Kornhuber, J.; Maler, J. (2010). "The synthetic cannabinoid Spice as a trigger for an acute exacerbation of cannabis induced recurrent psychotic episodes". Schizophrenia Research 118 (1–3) ( / NCBI) |
  44. Thisisntover. "Most Insane Hour of My Life: experience with JWH-018 (ID 85936)". Oct 1, 2010. |
  45. Michael C. "The Night My Brain Caved: experience with AM-2201 (ID 92954)". Sep 18, 2012. |
  46. Steve. "Next-Night Seizures: experience with Products - Spice and Synthetic Cannabinoids ('Apocalypse'?) (ID 89290)". Feb 3, 2011. |
  47. ilovethagreenery. "Should've Called Poison Control Bro: An Experience with Products - Spice and Synthetic Cannabinoids ('Diamond Dove') & Alcohol (ID 92698)". Jan 6, 2012. | |
  48. Schneir, AB; Baumbacher, T (December 13, 2011). "Convulsions Associated with the Use of a Synthetic Cannabinoid Product.". Journal of Medical Toxicology 8 (1): 62–4 ( / NCBI) |
  49. Acute Kidney Injury Associated with Synthetic Cannabinoid Use — Multiple States, 2012 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) |
  50. Ischemic stroke after use of the synthetic marijuana "spice". ( / NCBI) |
  51. Every-Palmer, S. Synthetic cannabinoid use and psychosis: an explorative study. Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2011. |
  52. “Spice” Girls: Synthetic Cannabinoid Intoxication - The Journal of Emergency Medicine Volume 40, Issue 3, March 2011, Pages 296–299 (ScienceDirect) |
  53. Every-Palmer, S (September 1, 2011). "Synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018 and psychosis: an explorative study.". Drug and Alcohol Dependence 117 (2-3): 152–7 ( / NCBI) |
  54. Naphthalene - United States Environmental Protection Agency |
  55. Toxicity and metabolism of methylnaphthalenes: comparison with naphthalene and 1-nitronaphthalene. ( / NCBI) |
  56. Synthetic cannabinoids in herbal products (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) |