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The Synthetic Cannabinoids Phenomenon

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« Spice » is generally used to describe the diverse types of herbal blends that encompass synthetic cannabinoids on the market. The emergence of smokable herbal products containing synthetic cannabinoids, which mimic the effects of cannabis, appears to become increasingly popular, in the new psychoactive substances landscape. In 2014, the existence of 134 different types of synthetic cannabinoids were reported by the European Union Early Warning System. These drugs are mainly sold online as an alternative to controlled and regulated psychoactive substances. They appear to have a life cycle of about 1-2 years before being replaced by a next wave of products. Legislation controlling these designer drugs has been introduced in many countries with the objective to limit the spread of existing drugs and control potential new analogs. The majority of the synthetic cannabinoids are full agonists at the CB1 receptor and do not contain tobacco or cannabis. They are becoming increasingly popular in adolescents, students and clubbers as an abused substance. Relatively high incidence of adverse effects associated with synthetic cannabinoids use has been documented in the literature. Numerous fatalities linked with their use and abuse have been reported. In this paper, we will review the available data regarding the use and effects of synthetic cannabinoids in humans in order to highlight their impact on public health. To reach this objective, a literature search was performed on two representative databases (Pubmed, Google Scholar), the Erowid Center website (a US non-profit educational organization that provides information about psychoactive plants and chemicals), and various governmental websites. The terms used for the database search were: “synthetic cannabinoids”, “spice”, “new psychoactive substances”, and/or “substance use disorder”, and/or “adverse effects”, and/or “fatalities”. The search was limited to years 2005 to 2016 due to emerging scientific literature at this period Health professionals should take into account that limited scientific evidence is available regarding the effect of synthetic cannabinoids use in humans. It thus urges to launch more systematic epidemiological studies, to develop and validate screening procedures, and to investigate the neurobiological and psychological correlates and risk factors associated to synthetic cannabinoids use and misuse.
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Keywords: Synthetic cannabinoids; adverse effects; fatalities; new psychoactive substances; spice; substance use disorder

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2016

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