Synthetic cannabinoids go by many names: fake weed, K2, spice, but no matter what you call it, there’s no hiding the fact that the name is woefully inaccurate.
The drug, which is just a mix of chemicals sprayed on plant matter and then smoked, is similar to cannabis only in looks. In terms of the actual effects, the drug is much more dangerous than actual cannabis, and can lead to seizures and dissociation from reality.
However, there have been very few scientific studies to actually find out what the drug does to the body until now. A new study out of the Netherlands tested the effects of smoking the substance on 17 healthy volunteers.
The 17 subjects visited the clinic twice, a week apart. On one occasion, they were given hemp with the synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018, and on the other, they were given a placebo (just straight up hemp).
Five of the 17 were given an equalized dose by body weight, and the others were given varying doses. No one knew what they got or when.
Everyone who smoked the drug did significantly worse on memory tests and their heart rate increased significantly right after smoking, but the researchers found that there was a huge variance among the amount of the drug found in the blood as well as how high people said they felt.
"We think that's due to our way of administration, which was [in and of itself] a challenge," said lead study author Eef Theunissen. But this is similar to "what happens in real life," Theunissen told Live Science. "People inhale [the drug] in different ways, and the amount that they inhale is very unpredictable."
This is just a preliminary study, and the synthetic cannabinoid used is one of the older versions. The new types that people are creating are a lot more potent. But hopefully, it will serve as a starting point for others looking to explore the drug's effect.