Cannabis has been found to have numerous medicinal benefits. Initially, there was a bit of discrimination against the plant due to its “illegal” source. But now, cannabis has been found to be one of the best options for the treatment of various afflictions. It is not unusual for many medical prescriptions to contain cannabis or any of its components. Nevertheless, cannabis is still being used for recreational purposes, and the cannabis industry is quite economically productive. Because of this, many synthetic cannabinoids are being produced to maximize profit.
These synthetic cannabinoids are indeed very similar to the organic ones. But the question remains, are the synthetic cannabinoids as harmless as the organic or natural cannabinoids?
Introduction to Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds extracted from the cannabis flower. They act therapeutically to alleviate a wide array of medical issues and symptoms, such as pain, inflammation, and even anxiety. Following years of intense research, cannabinoids have been discovered to have quite a number of new and vital medicinal effects: a wide array of symptoms have been relieved due to the use of cannabinoids, and more uses are being discovered virtually every single day. One such discovery involves studying the effect of cannabis in alleviating phantom limb pain.
Due to the existence and scientific discovery of cannabinoids, not to mention their numerous uses, some have taken to referring to cannabis as a “miracle plant.”
Cannabinoids function by imitating the effects of compounds known as endocannabinoids that are produced naturally by the body. These endocannabinoids handle communication between cells and when a problem occurs, leading to their deficiency, the body begins to exhibit symptoms and physical complications. A few of the more popular examples of cannabinoids include CBN, CBD, and THC. So far, about 90 or more cannabinoids are being researched to ascertain their vital therapeutic uses. Most of these cannabinoids have unique effects because they bind to different receptors all over the body.
Synthetic cannabinoids are becoming more and more commonplace in recent times. A few of the more popular examples include K2 and Spice. These synthetic cannabinoids, as mentioned earlier, are similar to natural ones. For instance, the K2 and Spice mentioned earlier, have chemical content that is quite similar to THC or tetrahydrocannabinol found in cannabis. However, unlike the natural THC, the counterpart found in synthetic cannabinoids are much more potent. This means that if any complications arise, they would be much more troublesome than they should be. Not surprising, the use of the above mentioned synthetic cannabinoids have been associated with seizures, heart, and kidney damage. Psychosis and death have even been said to be observed in the worst-case scenarios.
Recently, researchers have put more effort into discovering the neurotoxic effects of synthetic cannabinoids compared with those of cannabis specifically among adolescents. This study was carried out using data from the Toxicology Investigators Consortium Registry from 2010 to 2018. The data used for this study involved a total of 348 teenagers. These teenagers were treated due to synthetic cannabinoids or cannabis exposure in an emergency department. The use or effect of drugs in these categories was further divided into four. The four categories are:
- Synthetic Cannabinoids Only
- Synthetic Cannabinoids with Other Drugs
- Cannabis Only
- Cannabis with Other Drugs
It was discovered that those using synthetic cannabinoids who combined them with other drugs usually made use of stimulatory drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, and even 3,4- methylenedioxy-methamphetamine or MDMA (for short). While those who combined cannabis with other drugs went for stimulants or alcohol.
When collating and comparing results, it was found that about 19 percent of those who were “Synthetic Cannabinoids Only” patients experienced seizures. While only 6 percent of those who used Cannabis Only, experienced seizures. The difference is clear cut.
This result was explained to be due to the sensitivity of the developing or growing brain. The growing brain is particularly sensitive and even somewhat vulnerable to neurotoxic actions of cannabinoid 1 or CB-1. Now, this vulnerability is made very apparent due to the ability of synthetic cannabinoids to lead to excessive activation of CB-1. This would then lead to a disorder or change in the neurotransmitters modulating the seizure threshold.
Additionally, while only 10.5 percent of patients of “Cannabis Only” suffered from central nervous system depression or coma, an astonishing 28.5 percent of patients of “Synthetic Cannabinoids Only” suffered from similar conditions.
Moreover, concerning cases of agitations, they seem to be more common among “Cannabis Only” patients. 63 percent of these experienced agitations. As opposed to the 23.5 percent of “Synthetic Cannabinoids Only” patients who experienced agitations. Although those who used synthetic cannabinoids were better off than cannabis users in this particular test, the reverse occurred when other drugs were added. It was seen that an estimate of 47 percent of patients in the emergency department who used “Synthetic Cannabinoids with Other Drugs” went through agitations. While only 21 percent of those who used “Cannabis with Other Drugs” experienced these agitations.
The trend that synthetic cannabinoid users experience worse results than cannabis users also continued in the test for seizures. While only 8 percent of “Cannabis with Other Drugs” users experienced seizures, an astounding 29 percent of “Synthetic Cannabinoids with Other Drugs” users experienced seizures.
So the above results cannot be clearer about the fact that cannabis is better than synthetic cannabinoids for adolescents. This is the case whether used independently or with other drugs. Hence, the discovery that synthetic cannabinoids in teenagers are more likely to cause seizures and comas is not mere hearsay.
This is why a public awareness program or health messaging was suggested by the author of the study. The public health messaging would be aimed at educating adolescents on the dangers and excessive toxicities associated with synthetic cannabinoids.