The creation of synthetic cannabinoids dates back to as early as 1941 when a group led by Roger Adams produced and tested a large number of herbal cannabinoid analogs. More recent synthetic cannabinoids are no longer based on the herbal compounds and instead mimic the endogenous cannabinoids.
The manufacture of synthetic cannabis that mimics the effects of real cannabis has been increasing over the last decade or two. Several synthetic cannabinoids are used to coat herbs and then sold on as natural substances under names such as “Spice,” “K2,” and “Aroma.” These products are often referred to as spice product and produce many of the effects seen with real cannabis including relaxation, altered consciousness, and a sense of euphoria. Some of the synthetic cannabinoids present in these incenses include CB1/CB2 receptor agonists JWH-018, CP-47, 497 and HU-210, compounds that exert significantly more potent effects compared with Δ-9-THC.
The products are often sold as “herbal incense,” although some brands do call them “herbal smoking blends.” Due to health concerns associated with smoking the product, herbal incense products have been banned in several European countries, 18 U.S. states, and the U.S. military. In March 2011, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) made the possession of five synthetic cannabinoids (JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol) illegal by placing them on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
Synthetic cannabinoids were initially produced to help examine the relationship between the structure and activity of cannabinoid compounds. Some of the medications that contain synthetic cannabinoid components include:
- Rimonabant – This is a selective CB1 receptor antagonist that was originally used as an anti-obesity agent. It has also been used as a smoking cessation medication.
- Sativex is an oral spray derived form the cannabis plant and contains THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. It is used to relieve neuropathic pain and spasticity.
- Dronabinol is Δ9-THC and is used as an appetite stimulant, a pain reliever and an anti-nausea agent.
- Nabilone is a synthetic cannabinoid that is an analogue of Dronabinol.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc