Synthetic Cannabinoids


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  • Synthetic cannabinoids refer to a class of lab-made substances that are chemically similar to chemicals found in the cannabis plant, though they often produce very different effects. Some synthetic cannabinoids have potential or current medical uses but many are illicitly manufactured and sold.
  • Research shows use of illicit synthetic cannabinoids is associated with severe health problems and can be life-threatening. Illicitly manufactured synthetic cannabinoids are typically added to liquid cartridges used in vaping devices or added to dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked. These products are sometimes known as “K2” and “Spice.” People have reported using these products because they were sometimes cheaper and more accessible alternatives to cannabis and are mostly undetected by routine urine drug screens.
  • NIDA supports and conducts research to better understand how illicitly manufactured synthetic cannabinoids impact individual and public health, how to prevent and address related harms, and whether certain synthetic cannabinoids can be used in clinical settings to treat substance use disorders and other health

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Find More Resources on Synthetic Cannabinoids

  • Learn more about synthetic cannabinoids from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • Learn more about medical uses of some synthetic cannabinoids (also called “cannabis-related compounds”) from the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Explore the latest scientific literature on synthetic cannabinoids on PubMed, a service from the National Library of Medicine.