Synthetic cannabinoids in Europe
Synthetic cannabinoids, or more correctly, synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists, mimic the effect of cannabis and are the largest group of compounds monitored at European level by the EU Early warning system on new psychoactive substances (EWS). ‘Legal high’ products containing synthetic cannabinoids have probably been sold as herbal smoking mixtures since at least 2006. These products do not necessarily contain tobacco or cannabis but when smoked, produce effects similar to those of cannabis. They have been subject to innovative marketing
approaches and are widely available on the Internet and in some shops in urban areas (often called ‘head’ or ‘smart’ shops).
The number of substances, their chemical diversity and the
rate of their emergence makes this group of compounds
particularly challenging in terms of detection and monitoring.
The common property of all synthetic cannabinoids is that they act upon the cannabinoid receptors in the body, mimicking to variable degrees, the effects of Δ9-THC, the main active chemical found in cannabis. However, little is known about the pharmacology and toxicology of this group
of substances in humans. It is possible that apart from high potency, some of these substances could have particularly long half-lives, potentially leading to a prolonged psychoactive effect. This analysis aims to provide an update on the current knowledge of these substances and their effects, as well as trends in production, availability and use.