Strange but true — there was a time when synthetic cannabis was legal in Canada, but the natural herb was not. How was this even possible? If you can find a source of effective medicine that is natural and non-lethal, why would you ever want to recreate it with chemicals? The simple answer is prohibition. When a substance is effective but illegal, you can avoid the law by designing something similar. Unfortunately, designer drugs come with a price; at best, you deal with side effects. At worst, the cost is human life. Instead of letting people use cannabis, we have created options to replace it. Starting with the mildest and ending with the worst, here’s a look at cannabis replacement products that have legally been available in Canada.
Sativex a pharmaceutical cannabis replacement
Sativex is a pharmaceutical cannabinoid blend produced by GW Pharmaceuticals. The company spent almost two decades researching cannabis medicine and came up with a mouth spray extracted from the plant. Sativex utilizes a CO2 extraction technique to provide a one-to-one ratio of THC and CBD. It is often prescribed to treat MS, cancer, and pain caused by neuropathy. While it does contain actual plant cannabinoids, the dose is very low. Compared to the other methods of plant consumption, most patients report not feeling much effect.
Synthetic Cannabis – Nabilone and Marinol
Nabilone is a synthetic THC prescription available in Canada and the US. It is chemically similar to natural THC but created in a lab. They don’t grow any cannabis to create this THC product — they formulate it. Rather than deal with the complexities of the cannabis plant, Nabilone replicates the molecular structure of THC. While this may seem bizarre, it’s a shining example of the ‘single drug/single target’ approach. Often favoured by pharmaceutical companies, this tactic is tailored to streamline the drug approval process.
The patients most often prescribed Nabilone are those with cancer or HIV. It’s designed to treat persistent nausea and promote weight gain. However, Nabilone has been known to produce a variety of negative effects; including rapid heartbeat, anxiety and panic attacks. According to patient reports, using natural cannabis produces far fewer side effects than the synthetic capsule. In addition, many patients have stated that it was easier to find the right therapeutic dose when inhaling natural cannabinoids.
K2 aka Spice
It’s known as K2 or Spice, and it’s deadly. To make it, they take dry herb (sometimes hemp) and spray it with lab-created cannabinoids. This drug has no chemical relation to THC, but it was made to act similarly. Designed to exploit a technical loophole, K2 is a cocktail of legal chemicals that earn it the title of designer drug.
When ingested, K2 binds to our endocannabinoid receptors, much like a phytocannabinoid. However, the bond is stronger than the natural alternative and lasts for hours. The result is an intense high that can cause dangerous side effects; some of the most common include respiratory issues, rapid heartbeat, extreme anxiety, and psychosis. In addition to that, long-term use can lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
Unlike cannabis, K2 (aka Spice) is extremely dangerous. Because of how it binds to our brain, it’s easy to overdose when using K2 as cannabis replacement, but that’s not the only way it can kill. One of the leading causes of K2-related death is behavioural risks. With side effects such as hallucinations and paranoia, there are incidents associated with K2 use of users wandering into traffic and jumping or falling from fatal heights.
Why couldn’t they leave nature alone? Replacing cannabis with unnatural alternatives has not done our society any favours, but rather it caused more hardship. Thankfully, our lawmakers are beginning to favour evidence over loopholes. As quality cannabis becomes more accessible, synthetic cannabis is going extinct.