Synthetic cannabis

The‌ ‌science‌ ‌is‌ ‌in:‌ ‌synthetic‌ ‌cannabis‌ ‌is‌ ‌the ‌secret‌ killer‌


As the green revolution overtakes the country, an increasing number of people are openly embracing cannabis acceptance. However, a quiet imposter is quietly threatening the lives of Australians: synthetic cannabis.

What is synthetic cannabis?

Synthetic cannabis is an inorganic substance designed to act like regular cannabis. It is manufactured from a range of toxic substances and is sold illegally under the names ‘kronic’, ‘spice’, ‘northern lights’, ‘mojo’, ‘lightning gold’, ‘godfather’ and ‘blue lotus’.

Many Australians have unknowingly encountered synthetic cannabis, as it is frequently sold as another version of regular cannabis. It is estimated that 2.8% of Australians over the age of 14 have used synthetic cannabis. Depending on what it is made with, synthetic cannabis can cause:

  • Cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and high blood pressure
  • Hyperthermia
  • Respiratory depression
  • Acute kidney injury
  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Psychosis, hallucinations and delirium

Synthetic cannabis research

Synthetic cannabis has also contributed to the deaths of many Australians, according to research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). UNSW’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) completed a review of Australia’s unnatural or cannabinoid-related deaths between 2000 and 2017.

They identified 55 cases where synthetic cannabis contributed to people’s deaths. In 38.2% of cases, this death was due to accidental poisoning. Other deaths were caused by accidental poisoning and cardiovascular disease, natural disease, suicide and traumatic accidents related to synthetic cannabis use. 

Synthetic cannabis deaths in Australia

In 25.5% of cases, the deceased collapsed suddenly before passing away. 

The research also showed that older men are dying from synthetic cannabis the most, as 91.1% of the deceased were male. They died at an average age of 37.2. 

Synthetic cannabis and prisons

Synthetic cannabis use was listed as a contributing factor in the August 2019 death of Christopher Malyschko in Darwin’s Holtz prison. According to forensic pathologist Dr. Marianne Tiemensma, Malyschko’s death was the result of asphyxia, which was likely caused by obesity and synthetic cannabis use. 

Synthetic cannabis is a significant issue in prisons worldwide, as it is difficult to detect using conventional drug tests. Like members of the general public, people in prison are also uninformed about the true dangers of synthetic cannabis. 

Holtz prison recorded eight incidents of synthetic cannabis use in the year before Malyschoko’s death. During the inquiry into his death, another prisoner testified that synthetic cannabis was “rife” in the prison. In the UK, it is estimated that around 60% of prisoners have used synthetic cannabis. 

Synthetic cannabis: a secret killer

Both inside and outside of prison, synthetic cannabis is quietly threatening the lives and health of Australians. As NDARC’s Professor Shane Darke noted:

People are consuming a drug that they may expect to have effects similar to cannabis, but actually more closely resemble(s) methamphetamine.

One of the simplest and easiest ways to prevent more Australians dying from synthetic cannabis is to legalise the real thing.


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