Synthetic Weed and Cannabinoids: How to Tell the Difference Between Them

Synthetic Weed and Cannabinoids: How to Tell the Difference Between Them

Published on 4/15/22

While legal cannabis has transformed itself from an illicit black market drug trade fueled by sketchy dudes growing questionable cannabis plants in their spare bedroom to a thriving, legal, multi-billion dollar industry in just about a decade, there's still a long way to go before weed is legal throughout the U.S. 

As of the writing of this article, only two states, Idaho and Nebraska, allow for no form of legal cannabis. While 18 states have fully legalized recreational cannabis use and allow residents to buy and use most forms of cannabis freely, 36 other states and 4 U.S.territories have only legalized it medically. Due to continued federal illegality, this patchwork, state-by-state approach to cannabis can be confusing and frustrating to many who want to use and enjoy their cannabis products without having to worry about the looming hammer of the law coming down on their heads while simply enjoying a joint. That's why many have turned to synthetic cannabis and cannabinoids instead. 

Unlike regular, nonsynthetic cannabis, these synthetic cannabis products are legal and available in almost every state that doesn't allow recreational use. For many consumers, those products are a great option to enjoy the effects and joys of cannabis without worrying about the outdated and racist legal consequences that come along with the War on Drugs. Those synthetic products, however, do have some real and significant downsides.

This article will break down the types of synthetic cannabinoids and cannabis products available on the market today, break down the effects and some of the health concerns experts have raised about these products, and go in-depth on the difference between spice and marijuana. Let's get right into it, shall we? 

The Many Types of Synthetic Cannabis Products 

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Just like regular nonsynthetic cannabis, synthetic cannabis goes by many different nicknames. Often advertised at tobacco shops, gas stations, and sketchy head shops with names like "spice," "K2," "Black Mamba," and "potpourri," these synthetic products look a whole lot like the real stuff to the untrained eye. Thankfully, we here at Where's Weed have your back in being able to tell for sure! 

First off, let's break down where you should buy your cannabis if you're looking to avoid getting the wrong type of cannabis. This one is about as simple as it gets. If you're looking to buy nonsynthetic cannabis from anywhere other than a sanctioned, state-certified dispensary, it's more than likely synthetic cannabis. So if you're at the gas station, the tobacco shop, or anywhere else that's not the dispensary, you're not buying real deal cannabis.  

Another factor to consider is the form that real weed comes in. These imitation cannabis products tend to come in loose, pre-ground packs of dried plant material. Real nonsynthetic cannabis, however, tends to be sold in the form of buds. If you're looking to buy cannabis and it's already pre-ground up and not packed in a joint by your local dispensary, it's likely synthetic cannabis. 

The final warning sign to look out for when trying to figure out whether you're dealing with spice, K2, or real nonsynthetic cannabis is the smell. Actual cannabis has a very distinct, skunky, and fragrant scent. You can likely identify this smell if you've ever walked into a legal recreational or medical dispensary anywhere. Synthetic cannabis, on the other hand, does not smell like the original. 

Spice, K2, or any other form of synthetic cannabis tends to have a strange, distinctly non-cannabis scent. These imitation products are flavored and don't smell like regular cannabis. If you've ever smelled real cannabis before, you'll be able to tell the difference between the real stuff and the synthetic products. 

The Health Risks Associated with Synthetic Cannabis Products 


While many might opt for these fake products over the real stuff due to price, convenience, or worry about testing positive on a drug test at work, there are some significant health concerns associated with synthetic cannabis products. 

According to researchers at the National Institute of Drug Abuse, synthetic cannabinoids "may affect the brain much more powerfully than marijuana; their actual effects can be unpredictable and, in some cases, severe or even life-threatening." 

Researchers and health organizations globally agree with the conclusion that the U.S.-based NIDA came to when it comes to synthetic cannabis products. According to the Global Drug Survey, synthetic cannabis products were "more likely to lead to emergency medical treatment than any other drug." 

Here is a list of some common issues that people who use synthetic cannabis deal with as side effects of the chemicals and synthetic materials that the artificial cannabis products are made of: 

  • seizures
  • increased heart rate
  • kidney damage
  • violent and erratic behavior
  • vomiting
  • suicidal thoughts

Despite the legality of synthetic cannabis products, the risks seem to outweigh the potential upsides for many. While you might be able to pass a drug test after a night of smoking synthetic cannabis products, the long-term risks and health impacts might not be worth the risk. You would likely be better off applying for a medical cannabis card since most states have approved some form of cannabis for medical use. 

The Potential Benefits of Synthetic Cannabinoids


While synthetic cannabis products have some clearly documented health risks and downsides, the same can't be said about all synthetic cannabinoid products. CBG, a synthetic cannabinoid that can appear naturally in minimal doses of real, nonsynthetic cannabis plant material, can be added to food, beverages, cosmetics, and other product for added effects.

However, it's important to note that due to the outdated nature of cannabis legality nationally, not too much research has been done on the long-term impacts of synthetic cannabis product uses. Early research on these compounds, however, isn't promising. 

At the end of the day, if you're looking to get the absolute most from your cannabis, you should always opt for the real, nonsynthetic versions. While research on specific types of cannabinoids and other factors of traditional cannabis is still a little foggy due to the lack of federally funded research, scientists and researchers better understand the limits, benefits, and risks associated with traditional nonsynthetic cannabis.

The best way to find out for sure is to push for the complete legalization of cannabis nationwide, which will open the door to federally funded research to identify the core differences between spice and marijuana when it comes to long-term health. 

Have you had an experience with synthetic weed? Did you find this blog to be helpful in learning the differences? Let us know below! 

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