fb-pixel Skip to main content

What is synthetic marijuana?

<?EM-dummyText [Drophead goes here] ?>

Packets of synthetic marijuana.

On Wednesday, a source divulged that Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones had a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana, which led to his admittance to Norwood Hospital.

Synthetic marijuana — also known as K2, spice, crazy monkey, and Scooby snacks — is a designer drug. It does not actually contain marijuana, but is made of plants sprayed with various psychoactive chemicals, according to Boston police and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The drug is most commonly smoked — in fact, more than 80 percent of people smoke it, according to a 2015 CDC study. The drug can also be sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


In Massachusetts, synthetic marijuana is not legal, though it took some legislative maneuvering to make it illegal across the board.

President Obama signed a bill banning some types of synthetic drugs in 2012, and all 50 states have enacted similar bans. However, the bans usually encompass only certain compounds, which means new, legal compounds that achieve similar results could be formed fairly easily.

State Senator Michael Moore, a Millbury Democrat, said he helped introduce a measure in Massachusetts that was passed in 2014 to combat that.

"The federal government had it listed as a controlled substance, but it wasn't listed in the state," Moore said. "We had to add it to the state's controlled substance list, and we had to analog it."

Enacting those measures means the chemical components can be changed slightly and the substance is still classified as illegal, "as long as the purpose and basic components stay the same," Moore said.

In recent years, synthetic marijuana has been fairly easy to get. It is often marketed as incense or potpourri and sold at gas stations, smoke shops, and mom-and-pop stores, as well as over the Internet. Some packages are even labeled "Not for human consumption."


"There may be stores out there still selling it," Moore acknowledged. "Synthetic marijuana wasn't being sold by drug dealers on street corners. You could go into convenience stores and gas stations."

Prior to the statute being passed, only federal agents could enforce the law, he said. But now, local and state police can enforce it, and offenders could receive a fine or jail time.

This past August, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh also signed an ordinance banning the drugs in the city, allowing sellers and buyers to be fined $300.

What do users feel when they take it?

The effects of synthetic marijuana vary, but a typical "high" consists of elevated mood, relaxation, altered perception, and symptoms of psychosis, delusions, or disordered thinking, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

It can also cause extreme anxiety, confusion, paranoia, and hallucinations.

Researchers also say some types of synthetic cannabis bind more strongly than marijuana to the cell receptors affected by THC, and may produce much stronger effects.

Is it dangerous?

According to the state, teens and young adults in particular have showed up to area hospitals while on the drug. Symptoms can include impaired perception, racing heart, vomiting, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia, violent behavior, and psychosis. The long-term physical and psychological effects of using these drugs are not yet known.

Dr. Christopher Rosenbaum, director of toxicology at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, previously told the Globe that people who have smoked spice products have suffered from agitation, nausea, and vomiting. There have been some reports of seizures.


"People are smoking substances without knowing what's in them," said Rosenbaum, who has studied synthetic pot. "I would argue these products are more dangerous than the [marijuana] they are intended to replace."

Synthetic marijuana can also be addictive. Regular users trying to quit may go through withdrawal, with side effects like headaches, anxiety, depressing, and irritability.