Synthetic Cannabinoids

Street names: Spice, Black Mamba, Clockwork Orange, Pandora's Box, Legal Weed

Street form: The laboratory made substance is usually sprayed on to dried herbs or plant material. The finished product often has the appearance of herbal cannabis. The products do not have the same distinctive smell as cannabis.

Street use: Products containing synthetic cannabinoids have become increasingly popular across Europe and the United States. For many users the fact that many of the products are being sold as a 'legal alternative' to cannabis in shops and online has been a key factor in their increased use. There has recently been a steep rise in their use in prisons. The chemical mimics the effects of THC (the psychoactive element of cannabis) but does not contain THC. For this reason use of the drug will not be detected by traditional drug testing devices.

Drug effect: Many users describe the drug as being more potent and 'trippy' than cannabis. Users describe the 'high' as being very quick and intense.

Dependency: Psychological

Withdrawal: There is no evidence of physical withdrawal, although after-effects of the drug can include fatigue, depression and anxiety.

Long-term use: There are already concerns with some of the stronger products that regular, long term users may increase the risk of developing psychotic illnesses including schizophrenia. Research from USA is linking the heavy use of synthetic cannabinoids to kidney problems.

Overdose risk: The varied potency of different products containing batches of synthetic cannabinoids increases the risk that some users may overdose. User reports online have indicated that heavy use of products such as Black Mamba have led to extreme paranoia and hallucinations. Some other reports have linked excessive use of these products to rapid increases in blood pressure and convulsions.

Legal status: A large number of products containing synthetic cannabinoids are Class B drugs, illegal to have, give away or sell. However there are a range of recently produced products containing powerful synthetic cannabinoids which are not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Maximum penalty:

For possession: 5 years and/or unlimited fine

For dealing: 14 years and/or unlimited fine.