Dangers of Fake Cannabis

Fake medicines and substandard supplements are increasingly being distributed and consumed across the globe. This is partially due to thousands of unauthorised online pharmacies selling substandard medications, counterfeited pharmaceuticals and other fake drugs. It’s also partially related to consumers having a discount mentality, even when it means they’re putting their lives at risk. With further legalisation of marijuana, synthetic cannabis and contaminated cannabis products are re-entering consumer markets. In today’s blog, we’ll explore the dangers of fake marijuana, including detrimental health effects. Reading time: 2.5 minutes.

The dangers of fake cannabis products (‘spice’)

Fake cannabis products are typically dried plant-based products that have been sprayed with toxic chemicals that generate a psychoactive effect. These synthetic cannabis products are manufactured in unsuitable conditions (extremely filthy environments) using a wide range of toxic/carcinogenic chemicals. Batches have often been found to contain rat poison. The combination of toxic ingredients and detrimental psychoactive effects are very concerning to medical professionals and policymakers.

Following are just a few of the well-recognized dangers of fake cannabis (fake cannabis or liquid incense) products.

  • These products are not merely toxic; they have dangerous psychoactive properties
  • Use of ‘synthetic weed’ (liquid incense) can lead to heart palpitations/strokes, full-blown psychotic episodes, suicidal ideation, kidney damage and/or death
  • Health workers and police officers working with patients under the influence of these drugs are being threatened or harmed
  • There are no known remedies to mediate acute psychoactive episodes or seizures, other than restraining patients who would otherwise cause harms through violence or suicidal acts

Synthetic Cannabinoids (produced in dirty environments in low-income countries) are entering consumer purchasing systems, and the results have been disastrous.

Fake cannabis products have fluctuated in availability and popularity over the years. They first entered markets in the USA around the early 2000’s, with usage variable over many years. Reports indicate, however, their use is on the rise again.

  • This increase may be linked to the legalisation of recreational cannabis products in certain regions.
  • These low-cost, high-toxicity drugs have regained popularity due to their low costs and reported ‘angel dust-like hallucinogenic effects.
  • People with limited resources who seek mind-altering drugs, including the homeless as well as institutionalised patients, are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of these synthetic marijuana products.

Angel dust is an illicit drug with significant hallucinogenic properties, which can lead to violent reactions and/or permanent brain dysfunction. Synthetic cannabis has been described as having similar, although shorter-acting, results.  

Health professionals and psychiatric professionals have reported large increases in emergency room visits and hospitalisations when particularly harmful batches of synthetic cannabis make their way into communities.

Anyone buying fake cannabis or non-GMP synthetic cannabis street drugs, thinking they are legal or ‘safe natural alternatives’ as promised in deceptive online ads, is at risk of serious health harms. These include organ damage or brain damage, psychological distress, psychosis, violence and aggression, and related psycho-social harms.

Violent and Sexually Aggressive Behaviours, Confusion after smoking Fake Cannabis (Synthetic Cannabis)

Non-GMP products that aim to mimic cannabis drug effects are NOT the same as legal synthetic medications (CBD or THC).

Instead, these drugs are ‘mixed’ in dire conditions, with no care given to the user’s outcome. Large numbers of individuals have sought medical attention and/or required restraining after consuming these products.

  • Drug reactions have ranged from people becoming zombie-like and confused to physically violent and/or sexually violent after consuming fake cannabis. 
  • These are typically falsely marketed as being a natural, legalised and safe ‘synthetic cannabis’ alternative to actual cannabis.

Some people buy fake cannabis because it is less likely to show up in their systems if they are being drug tested. This is because the fake weed chemicals leave the system sooner than genuine cannabis intake, which can take up to 14 hours or more.

The high of synthetic cannabis comes from a variety of chemicals sprayed onto other types of dried plants. But it’s a dangerous high, leading to serious incidents including overdoses, violent acts, sickness or fatalities.

Brand names of synthetic cannabis in the USA market included K2, AK47, Spice, Scooby Snax, Kush or Kronic.

  • It’s important to note that none of these products are produced following GMP or EU GMP
  • Nor are they FDA or TGA approved for consumption, and would never pass a product safety test
  • Labs contain volatile chemicals that also pose an environmental and safety risk to nearby residents and businesses, such as air quality, dangerous chemical explosions (including high quantities of acetone used in making the drugs) and risks from criminal activities

Consumption of contaminated or highly psychoactive batches of synthetic marijuana has led to alarming health harms.

Key concerns from synthetic cannabis use include mass hospitalisations, psycho-aggressive and dangerous behaviours, confusion, cognitive impairments, vehicle accidents and criminal assaults.

Why are so many people getting sick and requiring hospital treatments after using synthetic cannabis?

When a batch of fake marijuana is particularly toxic, and/or extremely psychoactively potent, large numbers of people end up in hospital emergency rooms.

  • Drug-affected individuals often require restraining due to aggressive, violent reactions
  • Alternatively, they might appear confused or show signs of serious cognitive impairment
  • Suicidal attempts and completed suicides while impaired by these drugs have also been reported, although the exact number is likely unknown

Is synthetic cannabis safe? Is it a natural alternative to using cannabis? The answer is NO.

A number of hospitals in the USA reported huge surges in emergency room visits after batches of synthetic cannabis made their way into their communities. Over 6,000 calls were made to poison control offices.

Emergency room visits and fatalities were reported for ‘synthetic weed’ (synthetic pot)

News releases and media publications highlighting the dangers of synthetic cannabis (which contains no actual cannabis) include:

2015 — 721 Adverse Effects and 4 deaths reported linked to use of Synthetic Marijuana (Missippi, USA)FDA warning about synthetic cannabis

2015 report of over 2,300 hospital emergency room visits related to ‘fake weed’ in a few short months (New York) and over 6,000 calls to poison control offices

2018: Health Dangers of Synthetic Marijuana 

2018 – Connecticut – Health Dangers: 70 Serious Synthetic Marijuana Drug Overdoses

2018 – 160 to 210 Cases of sickness from synthetic weed (Washington, DC)

Ontario’s problem with fake cannabis and the arrest of Adam Wookey (Hamilton CAN)

Singapore arrests for fake cannabis production – Class A drug

2019 Arrest of 3 for synthetic cannabis production in Portage

What are the common symptoms when someone smokes Synthetic Cannabis?

Symptoms for seeking medical attention and emergency room visits after using synthetic weed included:

  • rapid heart rate
  • memory impairments (confusion, cognitive impairments)
  • vomiting
  • violent behaviours including sexual aggression or self-harm
  • suicidal thoughts
  • suicidal attempts
  • kidney damage
  • seizures

Synthetic Weed Contents: what ingredients have been found in fake cannabis products or counterfeit cannabis?

  • Toxic heavy metals
  • Pesticides
  • Rat Poison
  • Other contaminants

Counterfeit Cannabis Medications (Canada) | Fake Labelling, Fake Products

Not only is synthetic weed a problem for health officials and authorities, counterfeit cannabis (falsely labelled medicinal cannabis products) have found their way into medicinal cannabis distributors in Canada. These products are making their way into communities through unauthorised retailers and dodgy online pharmacies selling counterfeit cannabis medicines that contain zero amounts of actual cannabis and/or heavily contaminated plant-based products.


Synopsis of what medical professionals and the public need to be aware of in relation to fake cannabis products made in filthy environments; and the use of other products non-GMP compliant (which would fail EU GMP requirements).

  • Fake cannabis is typically made in filthy labs with various chemicals and toxins sprayed onto dried plants, then packaged and sold under various brand names
  • Many of the chemicals sprayed onto these dried plant products are harmful to humans; containing various contaminants, pesticides, carcinogenic materials (heavy metals) and other chemical toxins that can lead to serious acute reactions (poison effects)
  • These products first entered several USA markets around the early 2,000, but reports indicate recent increases in incidents related to the use of synthetic weed across quite a number of States (over 10 states reported mass hospital emergency visits involving hundreds of people in a short span of time)
  • Common reports of harms include:
    • drug-induced psychosis
    • violence and sexual aggression
    • seizures
    • dangerously elevated heart rates
    • strokes/stroke risk
    • suicidal ideation/suicidal attempts
    • cognitive impairment / accidents

The effects of poorly made synthetic cannabis products on the behaviours and brain functions of users are alarming to medical professionals, police officers and public health officials. Violent, aggressive reactions are not uncommon. Emergency rooms in several states across the USA are being taxed by large influxes of patients affected by dangerous batches of poorly constructed, dangerous synthetic weed.

Fake cannabis and synthetic marijuana harms further demonstrate the need for closer monitoring of cannabis-related supply channels.  Governments and web hosting companies face increasing pressure to force the closure of dubious online pharmacies and vape-shop suppliers of these dangerous synthetic cannabinoid products and other falsely labelled drugs.

Fake Cannabis Medications | Dangers of Fake Marijuana (Synthetic Cannabis) | One of many fake drugs.

Healthcare outcomes (dangers) of fake pharmaceuticals (counterfeits) and substandard medications range from rapid illness progression (due to lack of efficacy in counterfeit medications), to cancer, to acute or cumulative poisoning effects that cause deaths (numerous fatalities).  Examples: fake blood pressure medication that doesn’t keep blood pressure moderated can lead to strokes; fake antibiotics that lack efficacy can lead to a person losing a limb and/or dying due to poorly treated infections (and/or superbug infections or antibiotic-resistant bug strains); fake Viagra can cause harms that go unreported or become attributed to something else at the time of diagnosis or formal autopsy.

For more on the dangers of fake and substandard medications, click here.

Dangerous Synthetic Cannabinoids (Spice) – Drug Report

Counterfeit Cannabis Medications in California and the dangers to public health 

World Health Organisation (WHO) – Review of Synthetic Cannabis Products

In November 2019, the  WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) concluded a review of cannabis and cannabis-related substances and international harm-reduction policies.

Harms and benefits of cannabis products were analysed.  Across several meetings WHO ECDD meetings, recommendations included:

Australia news releases | Synthetic Cannabis use and harms

Synthetic Cannabis in Australia | NSW Police raid shops selling synthetic cannabis (VIDEO)

Darwin suicides and hospitalisations linked with synthetic weed

New Zealand news releases | Synthetic Cannabis use and harms

Synthetic cannabis deaths spike in New Zealand

New Zealand news releases | Auckland arrests for Synthetic Cannabis producers

New Zealand’s synthetic cannabis crisis

Top 10 Cannabis industry blogs (Medicinal Cannabis News)

Top 10 Medicinal Cannabis Industry Blogs

Need help starting a medicinal cannabis business?

PharmOut’s cannabis consultants can assist you with licensing applications, medicinal marijuana processing and regulatory requirements for GMP / EU GMP (PIC/S).

Our pharmaceutical facility design architects, cleanroom validation, testing and processing engineers are experts in assisting cultivators and medicinal cannabis manufacturers with environmentally-minded designs for efficiency and GMP compliance. Contact PharmOut with your enquiry or view the top 10 medicinal cannabis blogs.