Synthetic Cannabinoids: Factsheet

Resource Overview

Time Allocated

Partial lesson (under 45mins)


Australian Resource


Freely available

What are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Synthetic cannabinoids are drugs that are often sold as a ‘legal’ alternative to cannabis, while claiming to have similar effects. They are often sold as ‘herbal smoking blends’ with different brand names, such as ‘K2’, ‘Spice’, and ‘Kronic’. Despite the fact that these blends are often sold in stores or online and marketed as ‘legal’ and ‘safe’, many contain ingredients that are actually illegal and potentially very dangerous.

Usually these products are plant material that have been sprayed with one or more active chemicals that, when smoked, mimic some of the effects of cannabis. As the active ingredients used are often synthetic and produced in laboratories, they are neither ‘herbal’ nor ‘natural’, but rather they are engineered to be stronger than traditional cannabis, and therefore may pose a greater risk.

Also, blends often contain a mixture of different active ingredients, despite being sold under the same brand name. In addition to this, ingredients can change as different substances are made illegal, although the brand or product name may stay the same. This means that buying the same brand twice does not guarantee that the contents will be the same, and therefore the effects may also be different. It is therefore very difficult to know what is actually in the product.

What are the effects?

Like other new psychoactive substances, taking these is like a roll of the dice, and the immediate and long-term effects are still unknown.

Effects of synthetic cannabinoids can vary depending on the ingredients of the product but may include:


  • Drowsiness
  • Dilated (enlarged) pupils
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Memory changes
  • Confusion
  • Sedation or loss of consciousness
  • Panic attacks
  • Very rapid heartbeat, as well as irregularity of heartbeat
  • Slowing down of heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Appetite changes
  • Seizures and convulsions.


Early information suggests that use of some synthetic cannabinoids may lead to a range of problems including:

  • Dependence (addiction)
  • Withdrawal symptoms when usage is ceased
  • Memory problems
  • Paranoia (feeling extremely suspicious and frightened)
  • Psychosis.


Evidence Base

This factsheet was developed following expert review by researchers at the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use and The National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW.

See attachment for a detailed list of sources for this information.