Photo: Chicago Tribune

The Scoop on Synthetics

The Dangers of Dummy Drugs 

Under the Radar

McKenna Helfenberger

June 10th, 2017

In recent years, synthetic drugs have blown up in the chemical market. With the new drugs, the distinctions between the legal and the illegal start to blur. All these new drugs are created to replicate the effects of older stimulants. The expanse of these drugs is causing major issues all over the world.


Synthetic Marijuana


There many different types of synthetic currently on the market, one of being synthetic marijuana. We must look at the difference between synthetic marijuana and normal weed. The big difference is that it isn’t just one thing. They are groups of man-made chemicals with the comicality that the chemicals interact with the same cell receptors in the brain as THC, the active ingredient in natural cannabis. The manufacturers who produce this product try to make the association with the real thing as realistic as possible. In this way, they would take their man-made chemicals and spray them into diced-up dry plant matter that can be sold in baggies and smoked.


When you buy one of these products, you take a big risk. You are buying a chemical and you don’t know which one. It’s dressed up as a weed product, but is far from it. Most public health experts frown upon the phrase “synthetic marijuana” because they think it overstates the extent the chemicals present resemble THC. They prefer the term “synthetic cannabinoids”.


What dangers do synthetic cannabinoids pose?


Compared to regular marijuana, synthetic marijuana comes with more potential hazards. Drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine cause far more deaths but, the number of emergency room visits involving synthetic cannabinoids grow each year. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there were approximately 28,531 emergency room visits in 2011, two and a half more times the number of visits in 2010.


Where the drugs come from?


Synthetic cannabinoids sold in America and Europe labeled as “Spice”,” K2”, and “Black Mamba”, (among other names) are produced mainly in China. They are shipped from China to America and Europe as powders mixed with solvents and applied to things such as tobacco and marshmallow.


What are their effects?


The effects of ordinary cannabis greatly differ from those of synthetic cannabinoids. Users can be found in a “zombie-like” state after taking them, typically wearing off after 20 minutes or more.  In recent events in Brooklyn, New York, users of these drugs were left in an altered mental status. These drugs have been found to be 85 times as potent as marijuana.




Fentanyl is also a powerful synthetic drug, categorized as a synthetic opioid. It’s similar to morphine, but is 50 to 100 times more potent. The potency makes dealing more profitable and smuggling easier than ever. According to an official from America’s Drug Enforcement Administration, quoted in the House of Representatives earlier this year, a kilo of heroin can be purchased for roughly $6,000 and sold wholesale for $80,000 before fetching a few hundred thousand dollars on the street. The price for a kilo of fentanyl might be $3,500-5,000; stretched out into 16-24kg of product it might be worth $1.6m. Congress stated that fentanyl is the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States alongside the poly-drug organizations that transport the drug, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana throughout the country.



How can we control the substances?


The problem is it’s becoming increasingly harder for authorities to keep the lid on these drugs. As some drugs are “groups” and not single chemical, they’re difficult to ban. However, the state and federal levels have placed some varieties of SCs on "controlled substance schedules". However, manufacturers and distributors avoid straightforward prosecution by tweaking their formulas and switching to varieties that are not, in the strictest sense, illegal. 


Overall, the rise of synthetic drugs has been climbing to a nasty pinnacle in many areas of the world. The dangers accompanying synthetic drug usage are extremely unsafe and in the coming years, will only become more harmful.