Synthetic cannabinoids emerged over the last decade as a legal or quasi-legal alternative to marijuana. Most people expect the effects of synthetic cannabinoids to be like marijuana, but they’re not. If given the choice, adults would very likely choose to use marijuana if it were legally available.

Some people who use synthetic cannabinoids may be looking to pass drug tests. Because standard drug testing only tests for THC found in plant-based marijuana, synthetic cannabinoid products do not trigger a positive result. This appeals to active military personnel, professional athletes, people on parole, and people in treatment for substance misuse who were among the earliest reported users of these products.

Another group commonly using synthetic cannabinoids are those suffering from chaotic life situations, often homeless or low income. Synthetic cannabinoids became an affordable replacement to marijuana and other drugs.

People may also use synthetic cannabinoids when experimenting with other substances. They may not even be aware they are ingesting synthetic cannabinoids.

See the fact sheet for more information and sources.