K2 and spice synthetic cannabis in Australia

Experts believe cannabis legalisation secret to stamping out ‘synthetic’ cannabis


The Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) has warned Australians about the dangers of synthetic cannabis after the Victorian Coroner highlighted synthetic cannabinoids as “potentially lethal”.

While there are over 100 cannabinoids of appearing in 730 strands of naturally growing cannabis, synthetic cannabinoids are created by humans. They are a group of chemical compounds designed to mimic the effects of THC, a popular psychoactive component of cannabis. 

The drug has been around since 2004, and recently, experts are advising that the legalisation of recreational cannabis could prevent people from using synthetic cannabis.

As the recreational use of cannabis is illegal in Australia, synthetic cannabinoids are often considered a ‘legal’ alternative. Popular ‘strains’ include K2 and Spice

Alcohol and Drug Foundation ADF Logo

In a 2019 study by UNSW Sydney and the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), researchers discovered that many Australians are using synthetic cannabis as a substitute for plant-based cannabis. 

While people take the drug expecting it to behave like cannabis, all synthetic cannabis is different. UNSW co-lead researcher, Professor Shane Darke, explained that the effects of synthetic cannabis actually “closely resemble methamphetamine.” 

However, synthetic cannabinoids are not a legal product, meaning they are exclusively sold on the black market. As these drugs are made with unknown ingredients in unknown conditions, they have resulted in many deaths worldwide.

In Australia, at least 55 people have died from synthetic cannabinoids. 

In a blog post to the public, the ADF warned that synthetic cannabis can result in death, strokes, psychosis, acute kidney injury, violent behavior, respiratory failure, and a range of other symptoms. The ADF also explained synthetic cannabinoids are “unpredictable.” 

Internationally, legalising cannabis has been key to reducing the use of synthetic cannabis. According to the Drug Policy Alliance report, Colorado’s arrests for synthetic cannabis dropped 50% after legalisation. 

In Europe, the Global Drug Survey found that synthetic cannabis use is lowest in the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain – all countries that have legalised or decriminalised cannabis. 

Finally, a study from the University of Virginia has speculated that legalising cannabis may be the secret to shrinking the synthetic cannabis industry. The study found that K2 users preferred plant-based cannabis, and used K2 as a way to evade drug testing. Associate Professor and study lead, Erik Gunderson, was quoted by VICE, saying: 

Cannabis legalisation might lead to less synthetic cannabinoid use.


1 Comment

  1. Dear Karie,

    I am seeking your assistance on the issue of pro-cannabis legislation in Australia, in particularly, in Victoria on 1 November 2017.

    would you be able to send me information on relevant material on the actions taken by Victoria government to bring awareness to the latest cannabis legislation on 1 November 2017, prior to 1 November 2017 and after new legislation in Victoria.

    I found that the Andrews Labour government took no action to bring awareness to the November 2017 legislation change on legality of synthetic cannabis.

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