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Fake Weed Synthetic Marijuana: Drug Abuse & Danger of using this Harmful Substance

Updated on May 19, 2020
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I am a Drug & Alcohol Case Management Specialist working with patients suffering from substance abuse.

Synthetic marijuana or “fake weed” made a comeback in 2019 seriously endangering the lives and well-being of America’s youth and young adults.

Even with my experience in the substance abuse field, synthetic marijuana was something I did not know much about. I asked around and many of my colleagues were clueless as well. It was not mentioned in the substance abuse trainings I have taken in the last few years. I mainly dealt with opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and benzodiazepine and marijuana. I had not talked with any client who used or admitted to using synthetic marijuana.

Currently I spend a lot of time stationed in a local emergency room (ER). During the first few months of the school season several college students presented at the ER with a range of concerning symptoms including hallucinations, violent behavior, and/or vomiting. They all appeared to be “high” or “intoxicated”. I decided to do some research into this so-called “synthetic marijuana” or "synthetic weed" and was very surprised at what I discovered.

What Is Synthetic Marijuana?

First of all there is no marijuana in synthetic marijuana. Synthetic marijuana or “fake weed” is basically unidentified shredded plant leaves. The leaves are sprayed with chemicals that have mind altering affects when the synthetic marijuana is smoked. Sometimes it is sold in liquid form and vaped in e-cigarette type devices. The chemicals used are called cannabinoids because they are similar to chemicals found in the cannabis or marijuana.

This photo provided Aug. 7, 2015 by the New York Police Department shows packets of synthetic marijuana seized after a search warrant was served at a newsstand in Brooklyn, N.Y.
This photo provided Aug. 7, 2015 by the New York Police Department shows packets of synthetic marijuana seized after a search warrant was served at a newsstand in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Is Synthetic Marijuana A Natural Substance?

No. Synthetic marijuana is not a natural substance. It is not grown like marijuana plants. This noxious concoction has been sold legally under names like K2 or “fake weed.” Sometimes the synthetic marijuana is advertised or packaged with the words “natural” but it is anything but “natural”. The leaves or plant matter may be natural but the chemicals are not. The chemicals are man-made cannabinoid compounds that will often cause unpleasant mind-altering results.

This substance has been sold using attractive names like Kronic, Black Mamba, K2, Demon, Atomic Mash, Black Kush, Jamaican Spirit, Jammin Joker or Spice. There are hundreds more and the names are constantly being changed to disguise the product and avoid the attention of law enforcement.

The “fake weed” is sold in colorful packages that appeal to teens and young adults. Authorities continually work to make the sale, purchase and use of these products illegal but manufacturers continue to change the chemical formulas to avoid these laws.

Reasons People Use Synthetic Marijuana

I wanted to know where the terms synthetic marijuana or fake weed originated . My research revealed three main reasons:

  1. Some people often feel a high that is similar to the effects of marijuana.
  2. Synthetic marijuana is more difficult to detect on drug tests. Most employers and law enforcement do not test for synthetic marijuana.
  3. Some people just do not want to use an illegal substance. Because synthetic marijuana is sometimes sold in stores, users may not realize that the use and sale of synthetic marijuana is in fact illegal.

Why Smoking Synthetic Marijuana Is Dangerous

Synthetic marijuana is very dangerous. Obviously, the chemical mixture that is sprayed on the plant leaves is not created in a safe, controlled laboratory environment. Parts of a batch may have a little of the chemicals and others may be saturated with the chemical mixture. There is no way of knowing just how much of the chemical is in the batch. So obviously there is no way to know how the user will react to this substance.

Another concern with synthetic marijuana use is that dealers have been known to lace synthetic marijuana with other substances. reported that in August 2018, over 70 people overdosed on synthetic marijuana that was laced with fentanyl (read article here: Fox61 News reports that in May 2018, 25 people were hospitalized in New York City due to adverse reactions to smoking synthetic marijuana (Fox61 article:

There is no regulation to this product and no one knows what ingredients are used. The plant matter may even be poisonous to ingest.

Side Effects Of Synthetic Marijuana

Psychotic effects include:

  • extreme anxiety
  • confusion
  • paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others

Some users have experienced:

  • elevated mood
  • relaxation
  • altered perception—awareness of surrounding objects and conditions
  • symptoms of psychosis—delusional or disordered thinking detached from reality

Emergency Room Visits

I have seen many young people present to the ER with severe vomiting, extreme paranoia, confusion, seizures, symptoms of psychosis, altered perceptions, hallucinations and violent behavior. Some have had to be put into physical restraints for their safety and the safety of others. One male was insistent that he was giving birth to a baby and squatted on his bed as he had “labor pains.” Another was basically catatonic.

Some long term effects of using synthetic marijuana can be serious such as myocardial ischemia (which can put the user at risk of having a heart attack), seizures, and forgetfulness.

Also, synthetic marijuana can be addictive and cause withdrawal symptoms like, headaches, anxiety and a general sense of feeling ill. The takeaway here is that synthetic marijuana or “fake weed” is not safe.


There are a great deal of misconceptions and ignorance regarding synthetic marijuana. Many parents are unaware of what this substance is and the dangers of use. Teens, college students and young adults think it is safe because they believe they are smoking a natural substance. Those in the workforce are attracted to being able to use this "marijuana" because it is undetectable on many standardized drug tests. Fake weed is often sold openly in gas stations and other retail outlets so consumers may believe it is being sold legally.

Educate yourself. Educate your children. Do not be fooled. Synthetic marijuana is unregulated, illegal, unnatural, unsafe and potentially lethal.

Treatment Resource

The Addiction Treatment Planner: Includes DSM-5 Updates
The Addiction Treatment Planner: Includes DSM-5 Updates
This is an amazing resource I use to work with clients and create their individualized treatment plans.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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