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What to Know About Synthetic Marijuana (Fake Weed) Use

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Synthetic cannabinoids, also called synthetic marijuana or fake weed, have been used by many as an alternative to marijuana since products were first introduced in 2002. Despite the fact that these man-made products were created in laboratories to help scientists study the cannabinoid system in the human brain, they often claim to be made of “natural” material from a variety of plants.

Hundreds of synthetic cannabinoids exist and the effects can be unpredictable and even life-threatening.

Also Known As: There are countless fake weed products being sold as herbal smoking blends, legal bud, herbal smoke, marijuana alternatives, fake weed, or herbal buds. This makes it difficult for parents and other adults to identify them. Some of the brand names include Blaze, Blueberry Haze, Dank, Demon Passion Smoke, Genie, Hawaiian Hybrid, K2, Magma, Ninja, Nitro, Ono Budz, Panama Red Ball, Puff, Sativah Herbal Smoke, Skunk, Spice, Ultra Chronic, and Voodoo Spice.

Drug Class: Synthetic marijuana products are classified as new psychoactive substances (NPS), or unregulated mind-altering substances intended to produce the same effects as illegal drugs.  

Common Side Effects: Side effects of the drug include elevated mood, relaxation, altered perception, symptoms of psychosis, extreme anxiety, confusion, paranoia, hallucinations, violent behavior, suicidal thoughts, rapid heart rate, raised blood pressure, vomiting, kidney damage, and seizures.

How to Recognize Fake Weed

Synthetic marijuana often contains a mixture of dried leaves from traditional herbal plants. They are various colors, including green, brown, blonde, and red, and often sold in small packets approximately two by three inches. The packets are often colorful foil packs or plastic zip bags. Some online sellers of legal fake weed products do so with disclaimers like “not for human consumption.”

What Does Synthetic Marijuana Do?

Fake weed works on the same brain cell receptors as THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gets you high). It is typically smoked, brewed in tea, or vaped.   Many of these products are legally marketed as “herbal incense” or “potpourri”.

Some people who use herbal buds say that it produces a high similar to that of marijuana, but it doesn’t last as long. Others experience a relaxed feeling, rather than the “head high” that real marijuana produces. Also of note is the “harsh” taste, which people say “makes your throat burn and your lungs ache” long after you smoke.

Since there are no standards for making, packaging, or selling synthetic weed, it’s impossible to know the type and amount of chemicals in each product as well as what the fake weed will do to you.

What the Experts Say

Although they are often marketed as “100% organic herbs,” none of the fake weed products on the market are completely natural. They have all been found to contain various synthetic cannabinoids, or chemicals produced in laboratories.

Originally, fake marijuana products contained a chemical called HU-210, which has a molecular structure very similar to THC. Because HU-210 is listed as a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States, these fake weed products were manufactured and sold only in Europe.

Since then, new synthetic cannabinoid agonists have been created. They are too numerous to list. Some are similar in structure to THC; others are not. Some are classified as controlled substances. By using different synthetic marijuana mixtures, manufacturers are able to continue to legally market their products in the United States when another formulation becomes illegal.

According to the DEA, the majority of these chemical compounds are produced in Asia with no regulations or standards.   They are then smuggled into the United States where they are sprinkled onto “plant material,” packaged and ultimately sold in tobacco shops, convenience stores, and the like.

Some of these chemicals are still legal. However, since synthetic marijuana first hit the market, more than 20 of these compounds have become controlled in some way at the federal level.   At the same time, they noted that more than 75 additional compounds have been identified but are not currently controlled.  

In 2015, the DEA listed 15 varieties of synthetic marijuana as Schedule I controlled substances in the Drugs of Abuse resource guide. This places them in the same federal category as heroin, crack cocaine, and marijuana.

Many people buy into the idea that fake marijuana products are safe since the chemicals are “legal” and contain “natural” ingredients. However, this has proven to be false with multiple cases of severe, unexplained bleeding or bruising, and some deaths.   Other reports show an increase in emergency room visits due to rapid heart rate, vomiting, violent behavior, suicidal thoughts, kidney damage, and seizures.

Off-Label Uses

Some of the fake marijuana products sold commercially claim to contain herbs traditionally used for medicinal purposes, including:

  • Beach bean (Canavalia maritima)  
  • Blue Egyptian water lily (nymphaea caerulea)
  • Dwarf skullcap (scutellaria nana)
  • Indian warrior (pedicularis densiflora)  
  • Lion’s tail (leonotis leonurus)
  • Indian lotus (nelumbo nucifera)
  • Honeyweed (leonurus sibiricus)

However, one study revealed that some of the herbal ingredients listed by the manufacturers could not be found in the products.

Beyond the synthetic cannibinoid HU-210, which is used by scientists to identify cannibinoid receptors in the brain and study the effects Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ-9-THC), there are no approved or off-label medical uses for synthetic marijuana.

Common Side Effects

While research is advancing, the effect synthetic marijuana products may have on the human body is largely unknown. To date, few studies have been published testing the effects of the chemicals on users. Within the DEA report, they note overdoses that have caused fatal heart attacks.   Similarly, acute kidney injury resulting in hospitalization and dialysis have been connected to these synthetics.

One study compared the level of impairment for drivers who were arrested for intoxicated driving.   One group had smoked synthetic cannabinoids and those in the other group were high on marijuana. The study found a significant increase in confusion, disorientation, and incoherence in the synthetic marijuana group. Slurred speech, a side effect not normally associated with natural cannabis use, was also reported among the synthetic cannabinoid users.

Beyond the short-term effects mentioned, an increase in blood pressure, as well as seizures, tremors, and anxiety, have been noted in synthetic marijuana users.

Whether these observed symptoms will have lasting effects, particularly on adolescents and young adult users, is not yet known. Of course, smoking any substance could have negative effects on the lungs.

“The problem with JWH-018 (a synthetic cannabinoid compound) is that absolutely nothing is known regarding its toxicity or metabolites,” says John Huffman, who helped develop the JWH-018 chemical. “Therefore, it is potentially dangerous and should not be used.” JWH-018 is also known as 1-Pentyl-3-(1-naphthyl) indole and is one of the Schedule I controlled substances listed with the DEA.

Recently, a version of synthetic marijuana was laced with rat poison, causing uncontrolled bleeding in hundreds of people and killing several others who ingested the tainted products.

If you or a loved one has used synthetic marijuana and begin experiencing severe, unexplained bleeding or bruising, call 911 or asked a loved one to take you to the hospital immediately. These are all signs of contaminated cannabinoid products.

Signs of Use

If you are a parent of a young adult, it pays to know the behaviors and physical effects of using fake weed. While exhibiting one or two of these signs might not mean that your child is using, they are all strong indicators of drug use and should be taken seriously.

  • Burning incense
  • Buying or using eye drops
  • Possessing dried plants or herbs
  • Having rolling papers or vape pens
  • Receiving suspicious packages in the mail
  • Displaying unusual or secretive behaviors
  • Restlessness  
  • Red or irritated eyes
  • Pale complexion  
  • Acting confused

Myths and Common Questions

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about herbal bud is that it is “natural marijuana.” It is not; it is created from any of several hundred man-made synthetic chemicals that are sprayed onto the chopped plant material.

Synthetic marijuana is also far more potent, containing TCH analogs or synthetic cannabinoids that can be up to 600 times more potent than THC found in marijuana.   Often, additives, toxic impurities, and other types of drugs are also found in fake weed products.

Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal

Regularly using “fake weed” can result in increased tolerance, or needing more and more of the drug to experience the same high. If you regularly use synthetic cannabinoids, you can also become both physically and psychologically dependent. This means if you stop abruptly, you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms.

Since the chemical composition of fake weed is unknown and can change from batch to batch, tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal may also vary.

How Long Does Fake Weed Stay in Your System?

How long synthetic cannabinoids stay in your system depends on several factors, including the type, how it is administered (i.e., inhaled or ingested), amount consumed, and frequency of use. Since these synthetic drugs don’t trigger a positive result on most standard urine drug tests   , many people turn to these drugs in an attempt to avoid positive drug screens for employment, rehab, or legal reasons.

Addiction

Long-term, regular use of synthetic cannabinoids can lead to addiction. If you have a history of mental illness or a substance use disorder, the risk of addiction is even greater.

In addition to building up a tolerance and experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, other signs of synthetic cannabinoid addiction can include:

  • You use more than intended, even after telling yourself that you’ll only “take a few hits.”
  • You are unable to cut down or stop and have likely failed numerous times at quitting.
  • You spend lots of time getting high, often at the expense of spending time with loved ones or doing activities you once enjoyed.
  • You continue to use despite any problems with family and friends, employment, or legal troubles.
  • You depend on the drug to “relax” or for creativity.

Withdrawal

Symptoms of synthetic weed withdrawal can range from mild to severe, depending on how frequent and how long you have been using, and include the following:

  • Headache  
  • Severe anxiety
  • Depression  
  • Irritability

How to Get Help

If you suspect that someone you love is using synthetic marijuana, the most important thing you can do is spend time with them, communicate the dangers of fake weed, and watch for any signs of use. While behavioral therapies and medications have yet to be specifically tested for the treatment of synthetic cannabinoid addiction, a health care professional can work with you and your loved one to safely detox from the drug as well as identify and treat any co-occurring mental illness.

In addition to getting a recommendation from a trusted health care professional, the Partnership at DrugFree.org has a helpline and tips so families know what to ask when vetting a rehab.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Learn what experts have to say about synthetic marijuana or "fake weed" as well as common side effects, myths, signs of use, and risk for addiction.

How to Avoid the Use of Weed Killer on Your Artificial Grass

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Thinking about installing artificial grass in your garden? It’s not surprising considering how easy it is to install and how low maintenance artificial turf can be. However, you might be concerned that you’ll still have to go around the garden, utilising the weed killer to prevent those pesky, unsightly greens growing through.

Luckily, there are a few installation methods that you can implement to dramatically reduce the risk of weeds and even prevent them from growing through entirely. What’s more, they won’t add too much extra cost to your garden.

Why would you want to ditch the weed killer ? While all herbicides and pesticides have been rigorously tested to ensure safe use throughout the UK, weed killers are still made up of harsh chemicals that can have adverse effects on other insects and plant life you may find in the garden. They can also run off into waterways which can lead to further issues for any plant life or animals that live there. In fact, one of the most popular chemicals found in common household weed killers has recently been linked to the recent decline in honeybee numbers.

Should you already have artificial grass installed in your garden and you’re suffering from weed growth, we’ll provide some helpful tips later on in the post to prevent the need to bring out the heavy-duty weed killers.

Preventing Weed Growth Prior to Installation

So you’ve decided to install artificial grass in your garden and you are preparing the area for the turf to be laid. In order to reduce and prevent weeds and unwanted plant life growing through, there are a couple of extra layers you can add.

Sand Layer – Also good for levelling off sloped areas. Lay down a layer of sand and this will help to prevent any seeds that do happen to blow across your artificial grass from rooting down into the dirt and becoming harder to remove. Sand will also make it difficult for any existing seeds or plant life in the underlying soil to grow through.

Weed Membrane – While the sand layer can be skipped, you will definitely need to use a weed membrane for artificial grass. These membranes are specifically designed to lay under your artificial grass and allow sufficient water drainage – while preventing seeds from rooting down or existing weed shoots to grow up through your fake turf. The heavily woven cloths are designed for long-time usage, so you won’t need to worry about rotting or regular replacement.

Problem Areas – Places in your garden that experience more shade will likely have more moisture retention and are going to suffer increased growth. If you aren’t planning on using a base across your whole garden, consider removing the topsoil layer here and replacing with sand, in addition to a weed membrane to prevent recurrent weed growth.

After installation, you may notice weeds growing around the edges and seams of your artificial garden – these areas can be treated with some homemade alternatives we’ve mentioned below as opposed to harsh weed killers.

Dealing with Weeds After Installation

After you’ve had your artificial lawn installed, you may still notice weeds appearing on the surface. Most of the time, these are surface-rooted seeds and can be simply brushed away during general maintenance. Unfortunately, these types of seeds are often carried on the wind and it can be hard to prevent them getting into your garden.

Consider cutting back overhanging trees and bushes and keep these neatly trimmed so they don’t grow back to cover your artificial garden. This will offer some reduction in the number of shoots that appear.

During general maintenance, including brushing your artificial grass, you’ll want to ensure that all leaf litter and debris is removed. This helps prevent composting which can quickly accelerate the growth and anchoring of airborne seeds. This process also actively removes potential problem seeds from the surface of your artificial lawn, preventing rooting and growth.

Bird waste is also comprised of a lot of seeds and quickly removing this (by washing down the affected area or scrubbing where necessary) will drastically reduce the chance of weed growth.

Alternatives to Weed Killer

If you find that there are still weeds growing through your artificial lawn despite regular maintenance, there are more natural alternatives that you can make at home to prevent weeds from growing back. These options may require a bit of work but can be easily used a couple of times a year or if you notice a particular problem patch.

Boiling Water – Boiling water can be used to kill greenery popping up where it shouldn’t be and ensures roots can’t grow back. However, be warned – boiling water does destroy ALL plant-life so be VERY careful if using near to an area you have flowers, trees or bushes growing. You should, of course, always take care when using scalding water and take the proper precautions, wearing protective clothing, gloves and glasses where necessary.

Home-Made Vinegar and Salt Mixture – Another fairly hard-core solution. There are plenty of home vinegar and salt solutions on the internet and they come recommended by home gardeners. However, this solution is another non-discriminate option and will kill the surface of any plant it comes into contact with. Additionally, using high amounts of salt and vinegar can be detrimental to your soil so consider very carefully if you want to cause long-term effects to your garden prior to use. This particular solution is best used on paved or concreted areas that have been covered with artificial grass.

Blocking Sunlight to the Area – Even in the shaded areas of your garden, weeds need to absorb sunlight to grow and removing this sunlight can cause weeds to die off and prevent growth reoccurring. Consider adding permanent edging tiles, borders or similar around the perimeter of your artificial lawn. Alternatively, if you’ve got a couple of dry days, cover the affected area with cardboard or newspaper and allow the weeds to shrivel and perish.

With careful installation and regular maintenance, you’ll be able to keep your artificial garden looking fresh and weed-free. If you are considering artificial grass for your garden, we hope this has helped you consider future preparations your garden may need to give it a good head-start.

Artificial grass is an amazing product that ensures you’ll have a low-maintenance, lush, green lawn all year round. We talk you through the maintenance and installation methods that will help prevent a need to use weed killer. ]]>