Synthetic Pot: Not Your Grandfather's Marijuana

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2017 Mar;38(3):257-276. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2017 Feb 2.


In the early 2000s in Europe and shortly thereafter in the USA, it was reported that 'legal' forms of marijuana were being sold under the name K2 and/or Spice. Active ingredients in K2/Spice products were determined to be synthetic cannabinoids (SCBs), producing psychotropic actions via CB1 cannabinoid receptors, similar to those of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), the primary active constituent in marijuana. Often abused by adolescents and military personnel to elude detection in drug tests due to their lack of structural similarity to Δ9-THC, SCBs are falsely marketed as safe marijuana substitutes. Instead, SCBs are a highly structural diverse group of compounds, easily synthesized, which produce very dangerous adverse effects occurring by, as of yet, unknown mechanisms. Therefore, available evidence indicates that K2/Spice products are clearly not safe marijuana alternatives.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoids / chemistry*
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacokinetics
  • Cannabinoids / poisoning*
  • Cannabinoids / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / chemistry
  • Illicit Drugs / pharmacokinetics
  • Illicit Drugs / poisoning
  • Illicit Drugs / toxicity
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / metabolism


  • Cannabinoids
  • Illicit Drugs
  • cannabinoid K2