UN Report Shows Synthetic Drugs Reported in 55 Countries

This week, the United Nation’s Office on Crime and Drugs’ Global SMART (Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends) Program released a progress report on international synthetic drug use, which illustrates the widespread use of synthetic cannabinoids around the world.

Synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists, commonly referred to as synthetic cannabinoids, constitute the largest, most diversified and fastest growing group of NPS on the market, the report said.

The report provides an overview of the synthetic cannabinoids group, including their availability on the market; use prevalence; public health risks associated with their use; and the challenges related to legal control.

Since 2004, several synthetic cannabinoids have been detected in herbal smoking blends which are sold on the internet and in specialized shops under a variety of brand names such as ‘Spice Gold’, ‘K2’, ’Kronic’ and ‘Yucatan Fire’. These products generally do not contain cannabis but rather synthetic cannabinoids which produce cannabis-like effects. Labeled ‘not for human consumption’, these products typically contain dried shredded plant material – which by itself, has no psychoactive properties – that is soaked in or sprayed with one or several synthetic cannabinoids, varying in dosage and combination. In some cases, their solid form (powder) is added to plant material.

Since 2008, products containing these substances have become increasingly popular in Germany and other European countries, where they started to be marketed as ‘herbal products’ that produce experiences similar to cannabis and could be a legal cannabis substitute.

Since then, the emergence of hundreds of products containing different synthetic cannabinoids has been reported to the UNODC Early Warning Advisory (EWA) from over 55 countries. The attention of the international community has been drawn to their clandestine manufacture, the serious risks they pose to public health and society and the challenges for drug control, the report notes.

Since last month, more than 30 countries and territories have adopted regulations/legislation at the national level to reduce the availability of these substances. Recommendations for international control of some synthetic cannabinoids have also been advocated for by the Programme.

The Global SMART Programme has been working towards improving the capacity of targeted Member States to generate, manage, analyze, report and use information on illicit synthetic drugs. Their report is available here.