Synthetic vs Natural Cannabis

Written by Asia Mayfield

The murky legal ground that enmeshes cannabis is off-putting for many consumers. They’re uncomfortable breaking the law. In addition, some people have to worry about their careers. Many employers ask candidates to take a drug test before they’re hired. There may even be random drug tests. Synthetic cannabis was created for people who want to experience the euphoria induced by real cannabis without these associated risks. A typical drug test will fail to identify synthetic cannabinoid compounds.

What is Synthetic Cannabis?

Synthetic cannabis refers to cannabinoids created in a laboratory. Unlike real cannabis, which the federal government classifies as a Schedule 1 drug, synthetic cannabis is considered a new psychoactive substance or NPS. Manufacturers hope to mimic the appearance and effects associated with natural cannabis. The NPS cannabinoids are usually dissolved with a solvent and applied onto dried leaves and stems. [1] The crumbled vegetation is meant to resemble cannabis.

What’s the Risk?

Experts argue that synthetic cannabis is far more potent than the real plant due to full agonism at cannabinoid receptor sites. One research paper noted that cannabis is a “complex herbal mixture of THC [tetrahydrocannabinol], cannabidiol, and a host of other constituents such as terpenes. Balanced exposure to these constituents might modify risk.” [1]

Consumers may not be prepared for the effect. In addition, concerns have been raised regarding how synthetic cannabinoids are created. They’re often mass-produced overseas where there is little to oversight. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to consumers as regulators discovered rat poison in a batch of synthetic cannabis. Dozens of people grew ill before the tainted batch was discovered.

What are the Effects?

Consuming synthetic cannabis can produce a euphoric effect. However, it can also trigger a nastier response. The consumer might feel nauseous, dizzy, and confused. Long-term use is associated with kidney damage and addiction. Acute cardiac events have also been noted. [1]

Real cannabis is healthier, although it may be difficult to find if you live in a state without a legalized market. The flower contains over 100 natural cannabinoids in addition to terpenes. Synthetic cannabis manufacturers focus solely on highly potent artificial cannabinoids.

Image source: Green Rush Daily


  1. White, C. Michael. “The Pharmacologic and Clinical Effects of Illicit Synthetic Cannabinoids.” The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, vol. 57, no. 3, 2016, pp. 297–304. Journal Impact Factor = 2.812, Times Cited = 11

About the author

Asia Mayfield

Asia Mayfield is a freelance writer who focuses on the cannabis industry. She can be reached at

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