Synthetic cannabis: adverse events reported to the New Zealand Pharmacovigilance Centre

Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2021 Jun;59(6):472-479. doi: 10.1080/15563650.2020.1828592. Epub 2020 Nov 6.


Introduction: Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists (SCRA) were legally available in New Zealand (NZ) prior to May 2014. During the period November 2012-November 2019, reports of adverse events associated with SCRA use from across the country were submitted to the New Zealand Pharmacovigilance Centre (NZPhvC). The purpose of this study was to investigate adverse reactions associated with SCRA reported to the NZPhvC.

Methods: The NZPhvC database was searched for adverse events involving SCRA. Cases were extracted and analysed for demographic information of users, reactions reported and SCRA involved. Summary statistics were performed using SAS 9.3.

Results: One hundred and thirteen cases were identified from 1 November 2012 to 31 November 2019, comprising 81 males (71.7%) and 32 females (28.3%), with a mean age of 28.4 ± 10.1 years. Ethnicity included European (51.3%, n = 58), Māori (39.8%, n = 45), Indian (1.8%, n = 2), and Polynesian (0.9%, n = 1). There were a total of 327 reactions recorded in these cases, and the majority were psychiatric (52%, n = 170), followed by nervous system (11%, n = 35), alimentary (7%, n = 24), and cardiovascular (7%, n = 23). Where the compounds could be identified, the majority of events involved AB-FUBINACA (n = 18), 5 F-PB-22 (n = 17), and PB-22 (n = 6).

Conclusions: This study found that young, male and European populations frequently were involved in SCRA adverse events. A disproportionate number of Māori were present in this group. Psychiatric reactions were of clinical significance, and possibly correlated to the high potency and efficacy of SCRA compared to cannabis. Pharmacovigilance is a useful tool to measure and monitor illicit drug use, and with appropriate infrastructure and capacity has the potential to contribute to drug policy at a national level.

Keywords: Pharmacovigilance; synthetic cannabinoid; adverse drug reaction; novel psychoactive substance; synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems
  • Cannabis / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New Zealand
  • Pharmacovigilance*
  • Psychoses, Substance-Induced / etiology
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1