Synthetic Cannabinoids

What are Synthetic Cannabinoids? 
Synthetic cannabinoids or cannabinoid receptor agonists are compounds developed at various universities and pharmaceutical research laboratories over the last 40 years.  They were initally developed as therapeutic agents to treat pain and nausea, and are functionally similar to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principle psychoactive ingredient of marijuana.  Cannabinoid agonists bind to the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain and other organs as the endogenous ligand, anandamide. There is no known medical use for these substances as it has proven difficult to separate the desired properties from unwanted psychoactive effects.

In Europe, several synthetic cannabinoids were first detected in herbal smoking mixtures and incense/room odorizers under the brand name Spice in 2008.  Synthetic cannabinoids emmerged in the US under the brand "K2" in 2009 and since then numerous brands containing a variety of synthetic cannabinoids have become widely available through the internet and "smoke" shops.  In many areas, the products are available at gas stations and convenience stores. 

Why test for Synthetic Cannabinoids?
As more users are turning to synthetic cannabinoids as an alternate means to get high, numerous reports of adverse events related to synthetic cannabinoids use are emerging.  As of November 30, 2011, poison control centers around the nation have received 6000 calls related to synthetic cannabinoids use.  Adverse effects of the drug range from mild concerns like nausea and panic attacks to more serious concerns like seizures and psychotic episodes.  There is one report linking adolescent heart attacks to synthetic cannabinoids use (see and anecdotal reports linking synthetic cannabinoids use to suicides.  The US Drug Enforcement Agency put into place an emergency ban on five synthetic cannabinoids, but some of these compounds are still being found in smoking products throughout the US.  In addition, illicit chemists are using analogues and variations of the existing synthetic cannabinoids that are still unregulated to skirt legislation attempting to block their widespread distribution.  One of the primary reasons that many individuals use synthetic cannabinoids is that they are undetectable by conventional drug screening assays.  Synthetic cannabinoids use is especially prevalent in populations who are undergoing regular drug screening (ie drug court participants and parolees).  Of the synthetic cannabinoids known to be in the marketplace currently, none of them have any cross-reactivity to any the commercially available marijuana screening tests.

Testing method? Options Lab, Inc currently offers two methods to detect synthetic cannabinoids:

EIA Screen: We have validated enzyme immunoassay screening tests that detects synthetic cannabinoid metabolites in urine.  One of the assays detects the primary metabolites of AM-2201, JWH-018, JWH-073, UR-144, and XLR-11  at a cut-off of 10 ng/ml.  The assay has 50-80% cross-reactivity to the following synthetic cannabinoids: A-834735, JWH-007, JWH-015, JWH-019, JWH-022, and JWH-200.   This test offers an economical and efficient method for detecting the use of most of the federally regulated synthetic cannabinoids.

LC-MS/MS: Options Lab, Inc also utilizes LC-MS/MS (liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry) to definitively identify and quantitate urine metabolites of the following 19 synthetic cannabinoids, including four emerging compounds:   

AKB-48, AM-694, AM-1268, AM-2201, JWH-018, JWH-019, JWH-073, JWH-081, JWH-122, JWH-200, JWH-203, JWH-210, JWH-250, JWH-398, MAM-2201, RCS-4, RCS-8, UR-144, XLR-11


For more information on synthetic cannabinoid testing, please call 920-882-1646