Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Reduces Use Of Synthetic Cannabinoids, New Study Finds – Forbes

Harmful exposure to synthetic cannabinoids occurs less in those U.S. states where adult-use cannabis is legal, according to a new study that shows some potential public health benefits to legalizing adult-use cannabis.

Researchers who published a study in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology last week found that adult-use cannabis legalization has benefits in reducing both motivations and harms associated with the use of synthetic cannabinoid products.

They estimated that synthetic cannabinoids are used by 0.2–4% of the U.S. population, predominantly by young people.

In order to analyze the impact of the use of synthetic cannabinoids on the U.S. population, researchers have associated 7,600 reports of exposure to synthetic cannabinoid poisoning taken from the National Poison Data System (NPDS) data from 2016 to 2019 with cannabis state cannabis laws.

The findings show that exposure to synthetic cannabinoids declined over time. However, researchers noted that the impact on those who consumed synthetic cannabis was significant as most people who reported exposures required medical attention (64.8%), while 61 deaths were documented.

“Legalisation of adult use (recreational or non-medical) cannabis may reasonably affect the use of synthetic cannabinoids as well as recreational drugs or alternatives to cannabis. Examination of state legalization of medical or retail cannabis use and market variations may help explain regional differences observed in synthetic cannabinoid health event trends,” the study reads.

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Researchers have associated the cases taken into consideration for this study with state cannabis laws divided into three categories: restrictive states, defined as states where cannabis is either restricted or illegal; medical states, defined as states that allow for the use of THC products with broad medical authorization, and permissive states, defined as states that have legalized adult-use cannabis.

According to the study, adult-use cannabis legalization was associated with 22% fewer reported quarterly exposures.

Reports of synthetic cannabinoid exposures declined between 2016 and 2019. However, people living in restrictive states reported most of the exposures for that time (56%). In comparison, 38.6% were reported from people living in medical states, and 5.5% were reported from people living in permissive states.

Overall, annual reports of exposure to synthetic cannabinoid poisoning were 13% fewer in medical cannabis states than those reported in restrictive states, while in legal cannabis states were 37% fewer than those reported in restrictive states.

Researchers noted that while synthetic cannabinoid use appears to be decreasing, the number of formulations and the diversity of their structure with increasing potency has led to concern about their toxicity and long-term impact.

“Our study identified an association between more liberal policies (legalization) for natural cannabis and declines in reported synthetic cannabinoid poisonings. This finding suggests a potential effect of policy change on substance use behaviors that may have long-term public health implications,” the study concludes.

Sold under names like K2, Spice, or synthetic marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids are a group of drugs designed to produce the same effects as cannabis as their molecules bind to the same receptors to cannabinoids.

Synthetic cannabinoids can be consumed by smoking the dried plant material, mixing the sprayed plant material with cannabis, or brewing it as tea.

Several studies show synthetic cannabinoid products as not safe. Also, they may have a more harmful and dangerous impact on the brain than traditional cannabis, as their effects can be unpredictable and even lead to death.

However, some results of toxicological analyses of the deaths should be interpreted with caution, and some cases could remain unclear despite an in-depth analysis of all data available.

Although they can be easily found in drug paraphernalia shops, convenience stores, gas stations, and over the internet, synthetic cannabinoid products are illegal.

At the federal level, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) temporarily scheduled some of the substances found in synthetic cannabinoid products into the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) under the temporary scheduling provisions in 2011.

The following year, then-President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, permanently placing many ingredients contained in synthetic cannabinoid products into Schedule I of the CSA.

However, manufacturers use loopholes to sell these substances by changing the chemical formulas in their mixtures.

Furthermore, many chemicals used in synthetic cannabinoids are not detected by standard drug tests.

Such a feature, associated with the psychoactive effects that replicate cannabis’s THC with even more potency, and the easy access to the products, make synthetic cannabinoids ideals to be consumed by people who live in those states where adult-use cannabis is still illegal.

The phenomenon of synthetic cannabinoid products used as an alternative to traditional cannabis is similar to products containing cannabinoids extracted from hemp or CBD, such as delta-8 THC and THC-O acetate.

The public interest in delta-8-THC increased rapidly in 2020 and 2021 and was exceptionally high in those U.S. states that have restrictive policies on adult-use cannabis.

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