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Synthetic Marijuana Addiction: Signs and Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

Distorted image of a synthetic marijuana smoking mixture

Published: August 7, 2023

Addiction to synthetic marijuana occurs when someone has taken the drug so much that they can no longer function without it.

Synthetic marijuana, or synthetic cannabis, is a designer drug known as “fake weed”, and is a psychoactive substance made of synthetic cannabinoids.

It belongs to the “cannabinoids” drug category, because they have the same effect as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the active ingredient in marijuana.

Synthetic cannabinoids act on the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain as THC but tend to bind quicker. This can lead to much stronger effects than that of marijuana.

Learn more information about synthetic marijuana addiction below, including:

  • Synthetic marijuana dependence
  • Synthetic marijuana withdrawal symptoms
  • Difference between synthetic marijuana and marijuana
  • Signs of a synthetic marijuana addiction
  • Side effects of synthetic marijuana use
  • Risks for addiction
  • When to get help for addiction
  • Treatment options
  • Synthetic marijuana FAQs

Is Synthetic Marijuana Addictive?

Synthetic marijuana is considered addictive, meaning many people have experienced difficulty in quitting use of it, including withdrawal symptoms, or in controlling their use of it.

Synthetic cannabinoids have become increasingly popular for various reasons, including being easy to find. Synthetic marijuana goes by many brand names, including K2, Spice, Ak-47, Mr. Happy, Scooby Snax, Kush, and Kronic.

Synthetic marijuana may be addictive for several reasons, including:

  • It gives the same, if not more intense, side effects as cannabis.
  • It can sometimes be a cheaper alternative to marijuana.
  • It is widely available, and can be found in places like gas stations, novelty shops, and drug
  • paraphernalia stores.
  • It is easily available online, often sold as potpourri and herbal incense.
  • Synthetic marijuana does not show up on toxicology reports (drug tests), which may be required for
  • employment or legal purposes.
  • Some people mistakenly think it is a safer alternative to marijuana.
  • Young people may mistakenly believe it is natural, and therefore safe.
  • Packaging is designed to be fun and playful.

Does Synthetic Marijuana Cause Dependence?

Synthetic marijuana has been found to cause dependence, or a physical reliance, on the drug when taken in large amounts or for a prolonged period of time.

This means that a person will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop use of it and their body requires it in order to function normally.

Synthetic marijuana addiction is a mental reliance on the drug. A person may be addicted to synthetic marijuana if they need it in order to enjoy things, focus, avoid negative feelings, and they may continue taking it no matter the consequences.

A person who has a dependence on synthetic marijuana may experience withdrawal symptoms in their most severe form. A person with an addiction to synthetic marijuana may also experience withdrawal-like symptoms, though they are often less intense.

Synthetic Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

If you or a loved one have taken synthetic marijuana, and suddenly stop, you may experience the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Cravings for the drug

If you have been taking synthetic marijuana for a long period of time, and suddenly quit, you may experience more severe symptoms, such as:

  • Breathing trouble
  • Palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures

The type of withdrawal symptoms a person may experience depends on how much synthetic marijuana a person has used, and for how long.

Synthetic Marijuana vs. Marijuana

Although many people believe that marijuana and synthetic marijuana are the same thing, or close enough, they are actually very different.

Marijuana is a naturally growing plant that contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is grown and harvested from over 100 variations of the cannabis plant. It is used for both recreation and medicinal purposes.

Someone under the influence of marijuana has easy-to-recognize symptoms, such as drowsiness, increased hunger, or slow cognition.

Synthetic marijuana, on the other hand, is not grown at all, it is manufactured. Synthetic cannabinoids use a base of dried plant material to hold the chemical substance.

One of the most dangerous things about synthetic marijuana is that the chemical combinations used are often unknown, and are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

Signs of a Synthetic Marijuana Addiction

Someone who is addicted to synthetic marijuana will likely show symptoms of the addiction, although it is important to note that symptoms can vary from person to person.

The following symptoms may be signs of an addiction to synthetic marijuana:

  • Sudden, extreme stints of hyperactivity or lethargy
  • Sudden, unprovoked, and extreme bouts of anger
  • Physical aggression and violent behavior
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Delusions and altered perceptions
  • Elevated moods or extreme depressive episodes
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis

Side Effects of Synthetic Marijuana Use

Synthetic marijuana and other synthetic drugs can harm the user and cause adverse health effects.

Taking synthetic marijuana for even a short amount of time can have serious consequences for a person’s health.

Some of the short-term effects of synthetic cannabinoid products include the following:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Violent behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Confusion and concentration problems
  • Hallucinations/delusions/psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Breathing problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Muscle damage

While studies on the long-term effects of the human consumption of synthetic marijuana are ongoing, a few side effects have become evident.

The following health conditions can be caused or affected by long-term use of synthetic cannabinoids:

  • Mental health conditions
  • Heart conditions
  • Behavioral impairments
  • Cognitive impairments

Risk Factors for Synthetic Marijuana Drug Abuse

Risk factors for synthetic marijuana are much the same as for any illicit drug. If a person has an addiction to e-cigarettes, for example, or has a history of opioid addiction or abuse, they can be at risk of abusing synthetic marijuana.

Healthcare providers have identified the following types of risk factors for synthetic marijuana abuse:

  • Genetics: A history of addiction or abuse in a person’s family, especially the immediate family, can cause a person to have a higher risk of developing an addiction to synthetic marijuana.
  • Developmental : Young people are more vulnerable to abusing synthetic marijuana, due to factors such as peer pressure and brain development.
  • Environmental: The wide availability of synthetic cannabinoids can be a significant factor in developing an addiction to this drug.

When to Seek Help for Synthetic Marijuana Addiction

With synthetic marijuana being readily available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared synthetic marijuana a public health risk.

It can be difficult to tell if someone you love has an addiction to synthetic marijuana. But, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), there are usually some signs and symptoms that you can look for.

Questions to ask if you are concerned you or a loved one may have an addiction to synthetic marijuana:

  • Do you use herbal incense or potpourri for a different reason than what is intended?
  • Do you find yourself running out of your synthetic marijuana quickly?
  • Do you think about when you can next use synthetic cannabinoids?
  • Have you found that everyday tasks are harder if you have not taken synthetic marijuana?
  • Has the need to use synthetic marijuana started to affect your life?
  • Do you take synthetic cannabinoids to avoid withdrawal symptoms?
  • Do you use synthetic marijuana or other drugs even if you know they have adverse effects or are life-threatening?
  • Would you prefer to use synthetic cannabinoids than be with family or friends?
  • Do you need more synthetic marijuana to get the same effects?
  • Is it hard or impossible to stop, even if you want to?

Synthetic Marijuana Addiction Treatment Options

If you or a loved one are addicted to synthetic marijuana, the good news is there are many treatment options available for you. There is help ready if you are willing to get it.

Some of the treatment options available include detoxification programs, inpatient and outpatient treatment, medication-assisted treatment programs, aftercare programs, and more.

Drug Detox Programs

In drug detox programs, patients are supervised 24/7 by qualified doctors and nursing staff. They will monitor the patient’s vital signs, including the heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature.

When entering a drug detox program, a physical examination will be performed to assess the patient’s health and identify co-occurring conditions.

The doctor will use this time to acquire a complete drug use history and, based on the information gathered, will design an individual treatment plan for each patient.

Drug Rehab Programs

When it comes to drug rehab programs, the first choice is between inpatient and outpatient programs. These programs differ in levels of supervision, meetings, and intensity.

Inpatient programs require you to stay on the premises around the clock and typically include several different therapy sessions a day, as well as mandatory support groups.

Inpatient programs are considered to be a higher level of care and have the highest success rates for any degree of addiction.

Outpatient Treatment

If a person does not require intensive help, or they are transitioning out of inpatient programs, outpatient programs are available. They are different types of outpatient treatment, with differing levels of assistance.

Types of outpatient treatment for synthetic marijuana use:

  • Partial hospitalization programs — These programs help patients transition from inpatient to outpatient treatment in a step-down approach designed to assist patients who need more frequent, intensive treatment.
  • Intensive outpatient programs — This program is used as a step-down from partial hospitalization programs. This could also be a program for patients who need less-intensive care than inpatient or partial hospitalization.
  • General outpatient programs — This is considered the least-intensive level of outpatient programs. These programs help prepare patients for life in long-term recovery and will continue for as long as it is needed.


Aftercare programs are designed to help people who have substance use disorders continue their sober living after they have graduated from inpatient and outpatient programs.

They generally consist of community-based self-help support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. These types of programs are meant to taper off after a while if possible.

You can also seek individual therapy, group counseling, sober apps, or alumni sober network groups through your rehab center to help you stay on the path to recovery.

Reach Out for Help With a Synthetic Marijuana Addiction

If you or a loved one have an addiction to synthetic marijuana and you are ready for a change, the good news is you are not alone. There are many options available to help you quit.

If you are ready to quit your addiction to synthetic marijuana, call our addiction specialists today for resources on how to get started.

Synthetic Marijuana Addiction FAQs

Are synthetic cannabinoids addictive?

Yes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), synthetic marijuana is considered to be addictive due to the withdrawal effects it causes when someone tries to quit use.

Is synthetic marijuana dangerous?

Synthetic marijuana is considered to be dangerous by both the CDC and NIDA. There is no regulation of the chemicals that go into synthetic cannabinoids, therefore there is no way of knowing if there will be adverse chemical reactions.

How do you treat addiction to synthetic marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana is treated the same way as many other drug addictions. These treatments include medically supervised detoxification, inpatient and outpatient programs, and aftercare to maintain sobriety.

What are the side effects of synthetic marijuana?

Many of the side effects of synthetic marijuana, including physical and psychoactive effects, are considered to be dangerous.

These effects include rapid heart rate, violent behavior, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, confusion, disorientation, breathing problems, sleep problems, and seizures.

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