Małgorzata Piechaczek, Magdalena Smolik, Beata Bystrowska
The dark side of cannabis - synthetic cannabinoids as the „legal high”
Cannabis sp. or hemp is a plant that has been used extensively for centuries, both as an excellent source of fibers and oil, but also - thanks to the content of compounds called phytocannabinoids, acts as a plant for medicinal applications. Determination of the structure of the active substance of Cannabis sativa, i.e. Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), and then the discovery of the neurotransmission system based on the interaction of cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous ligands (endocannabinoids), resulted in enormous interest in these compounds and their potential application in medicine. Many scientists have studied the structure-activity relationship of Δ9-THC, modifying its original dibenzopyran structure more and more. As a result of this long-term research, a very large and diverse group of compounds was obtained, which were to become new painkillers, antiepileptics, and anti-anorectic drugs. Unfortunately, further research and clinical trials were stopped for the same reason - an adverse psychoactive effect. Published research results on the structures of these compounds and their predicted pharmacological activity have been used by criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking. In this way, information about mysterious poisonings caused by unknown substances (later called: new psychoactive substances (NPS)) used for recreational purposes began to appear in Europe in the early 21st century. These substances have been detected and popularized under the name “legal highs” in Poland since 2008. The phenomenon of using NPS peaked in 2015, which was related to the wave of poisoning with the product “Mocarz”. Since then, the number of reported poisonings has been systematically decreasing, despite the more and more reliable methods of collecting epidemiological data in this field. The presence of new psychoactive substances has forced lawmakers to adopt a completely new approach to enacting drug law. The aim of this article is to summarize the history of synthetic cannabinoids used in smoking mixtures (spice) in Poland as well as to describe the structure of synthetic cannabinoids and systematize them into chemical groups, taking into account only those substances that have appeared and have been banned in Poland.
Keywords: new psychoactive substances (NPS), synthetic cannabinoids, chemical classification, legal highs.
© Farm Pol, 2022, 78(5): 235–248