Synthetic cannabis FAQ

What is synthetic cannabis?

Synthetic cannabis IS NOT cannabis.

It is a product made to mimic naturally occurring cannabis. Manufacturers spray man-made chemicals (cannabinoids) onto various types of plant material and sell it in packets with names such as Spice, Kronic, Kalma, Voodoo, Kaos or Mango Kush. Cannabinoids occur naturally or can be manufactured. 

Does synthetic cannabis make you ‘high’ like cannabis?

Naturally occurring cannabis is a completely different drug from the various mixtures that are called ‘synthetic cannabis’ and do not contain THC. While synthetic cannabis is purportedly designed to give users a similar ‘high’ to cannabis, its effects are largely unpredictable.

Internet forums for people who use synthetic cannabis often feature discussions about which brands and varieties to avoid due to unwanted side effects. Studies report negative side effects including nausea, vomiting, chest pains, anxiety, seizures, panic attacks, disorientation and headache. It is also worthy of note that several people have died after using synthetic cannabis, including recent deaths in Queensland. In contrast, some users also report the products do nothing at all! 

Is synthetic cannabis legal?

No. Despite what is advertised online or on the products themselves, synthetic cannabinoids are not legal in Australia. Manufacturers have tried to get around the law by subtlety changing the chemical components of their products but nonetheless, they are banned for sale and manufacture in Australia.  

Where do people buy synthetic cannabis?

Synthetic cannabis is often sold in foil sachets over the internet, in specialist adult stores or by tobacconists and labelled as incense, or ‘not for human consumption’. It is important to remember that it is not legal to sell or use synthetic cannabis in Australia. 

Why do people use synthetic cannabis?

When synthetic cannabis was legal (prior to 2011), some people reported using it as an alternative to illegal botanical cannabis. When it was first available, others may have used it in an attempt to avoid a positive drug test at work, such as those in the mining industry.

Now synthetic cannabis is banned throughout Australia and using it is against the law, likewise, drug testing techniques have improved and many companies’ drug policies have caught up, banning employees from using synthetic cannabis products along with other illegal drugs. Given these changes, the reason for using the drug may vary; some people may use synthetic cannabis to experiment and try something different, they may try it because they aren’t aware it is illegal, because the packaging makes it look safer or because it’s easier to purchase. 

Is synthetic cannabis safe?

No, synthetic cannabis is not safe. Manufacturers of these products are motivated by profits, not by ensuring their customers are safe. Because synthetic cannabis is illegal, it is not subject to routine testing or quality control, and because manufacturers often change the ingredients, a user can never really be sure what they are buying. Research has shown ingredients listed on these products are often false and highly variable. 

Is synthetic cannabis addictive?

Yes. Regular use has been shown to cause addiction, tolerance (needing to use more to get the same effect), and withdrawal symptoms. As the chemicals used in these products vary greatly the withdrawal symptoms are also more unpredictable. Some are like withdrawal from THC like nightmares, sweating and cravings but symptoms such as severe anxiety, nausea and chills have also been reported.

What are the risks of using synthetic cannabis?

Serious physical effects have been reported including loss of consciousness, increased blood pressure and heart rate, heart attacks and kidney failure. The mental health impacts are also very significant and quite common, especially among young people. These can include panic attacks, severe anxiety, depression and hallucinations. Some of the chemicals such as AB-CHMINACA are extremely potent and linked with seizures, psychotic episodes and fatalities.