Harm Associated with Synthetic Cannabinoids May be Influenced by Genetics

Metabolism of synthetic cannabinoids could lead to dangerous adverse events.

The use of synthetic cannabinoids has been growing in the United States largely due to the emergence of multiple new forms of the drugs.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that synthetic cannabinoids are chemicals that can be sprayed on plant material to be smoked or sold as liquids for inhalation. While synthetic cannabinoids are claimed to be safe alternatives to marijuana, the drugs can elicit powerful, mind-altering side effects that could lead to death.

New research presented at the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting looked at how the synthetic drugs affect biological processes and how genetics may be involved with their metabolism. This study could reveal factors that may increase the likelihood of experiencing dangerous side effects, which could then lead to a way to intervene.

Synthetic cannabinoids come in more than 150 known chemical forms. While the drugs interact with the same receptors as marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids affect the brain in a much stronger and unpredictable way.

"The growing interest in these products, which are inappropriately labeled as 'synthetic marijuana,' is due to rampant availability, ability to elude detection in standard drug tests, low price and the misconception that these products are not toxic," said researcher Anna Radominska-Pandya, PhD. "Due to potentially fatal effects of synthetic cannabinoids, it is important to understand the biological activity and toxicity of these novel compounds so that effective treatments and antidotes can be developed."

The team of researchers were one of the first to identify and study synthetic cannabinoids in America. Over the past decade, the authors have discovered potential mechanisms responsible for heightened effects of synthetic cannabinoids compared with marijuana. These findings have the potential to lead to antidotes that prevent dangerous side effects.

In the new study, the authors discovered the role of certain enzymes in the metabolism of synthetic drugs. These results caused the authors to speculate that genetics may cause metabolism defects that may lead to severe reactions.

These findings could result in a novel method to identify individuals who cannot metabolize and excrete synthetic cannabinoids, which results in severe or deadly side effects, according to the authors.

As new synthetic compounds continue to be brought to market, the authors plan to continue studying the effects of the newer drugs and determine how metabolism may influence toxicity, according to the study.

"Our overall goal is to understand the molecular and behavioral pharmacology and metabolism of these compounds as a means to identify effective therapeutic strategies against their acute and chronic toxic effects in people," Dr Radominska-Pandya concluded.