A survey of synthetic cannabinoid consumption by current cannabis users

Subst Abus. 2014;35(2):184-9. doi: 10.1080/08897077.2013.846288.


Background: Despite growing concern about the increased rates of synthetic cannabinoid (SC) use and their effects, only limited data are available that addresses these issues. This study assessed the extent of SC product use and reported effects among a cohort of adult marijuana and tobacco users.

Methods: A brief telephone interview was conducted with individuals who had given permission to be contacted for future research while screening for a cannabis/nicotine dependence medication development study (NCT01204723).

Results: Respondents (N = 42; 88% participation rate) were primarily young adults, male, racially diverse, and high school graduates. Nearly all currently smoked tobacco and cannabis, with 86% smoking cannabis on 5 or more days per week. Nearly all (91%) were familiar with SC products, half (50%) reported smoking SC products previously, and a substantial minority (24%) reported current use (i.e., past month). Despite a federal ban on 5 common SCs, which went into effect on March 1, 2011, a number of respondents reported continued SC product use. Common reasons reported for use included, but were not limited to, seeking a new "high" similar to that produced by marijuana and avoiding drug use detection via a positive urine screen. The primary side effects were trouble thinking clearly, headache, dry mouth, and anxiety. No significant differences were found between synthetic cannabinoid product users (ever or current) and nonusers by demographics or other characteristics.

Conclusions: Among current marijuana and tobacco users, SC product consumption was common and persisted despite a federal ban. The primary reasons for the use of SC-containing products seem to be to evade drug detection and to experience a marijuana-like high.

Keywords: Cannabinoid K2; JWH-018; Spice; cannabinoid receptor agonists; cannabinoids; designer drugs; synthetic cannabinoid; tetrahydrocannabinol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cannabinoids / adverse effects*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Users / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology
  • Marijuana Smoking / adverse effects
  • Marijuana Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Virginia / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Cannabinoids
  • Illicit Drugs

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01204723