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Synthetic cannabinoids are a class of molecules that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the body (the same receptors to which THC and CBD attach, which are cannabinoids in cannabis plants). They are designer drugs that are commonly sprayed onto plant matter and are usually smoked, although since 2016 they have also been consumed in a concentrated liquid form in the US and UK. They have been marketed as herbal incense, or “herbal smoking blends” and sold under common names like K2, Spice, and Synthetic Marijuana. They are often labeled “not for human consumption” for liability defense.When the herbal blends went on sale in the early 2000s, it was thought that they achieved psychoactive effects from a mixture of natural herbs. Laboratory analysis in 2008 showed instead that many contained synthetic cannabinoids. Since 2016 synthetic cannabinoids are the most common new psychoactive substances to be reported. From 2008 to 2014, 142 synthetic cannabinoids were reported to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). A large and complex variety of synthetic cannabinoids are designed in an attempt to avoid legal restrictions on cannabis, making synthetic cannabinoids designer drugs.Most synthetic cannabinoids are agonists of the cannabinoid receptors. They have been designed to be similar to THC, the natural cannabinoid with the strongest binding affinity to the CB1 receptor, which is linked to the psychoactive effects or "high" of marijuana. These synthetic analogs often have greater binding affinity and greater potency to the CB1 receptors. There are several synthetic cannabinoid families (e.g. CP-xxx, WIN-xxx, JWH-xxx, UR-xxx, and PB-xx) classified based on the base structure.Reported user negative effects include palpitations, paranoia, intense anxiety, nausea, vomiting, confusion, poor coordination, and seizures. There have also been reports of a strong compulsion to re-dose, withdrawal symptoms, and persistent cravings. There have been several deaths linked to synthetic cannabinoids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the number of deaths from synthetic cannabinoid use tripled between 2014 and 2015.In 2018 the United States Food and Drug Administration warned of significant health risks from synthetic cannabinoid products that contain the rat poison brodifacoum, which is added because it is thought to extend the duration of the drugs' effects. Severe illnesses and death have resulted from this contamination.

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