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Department of Social Welfare, City of Zurich. Schori, Dominique (2020) C-EHRN briefing paper. Amsterdam: Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network.

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The term “synthetic cannabinoids” has established itself internationally for this group of substances. However, it is not selective, because cannabinoids, which are naturally formed in the hemp plant and have a significantly lower risk potential (THC and CBD), can also be synthetically produced. The group known as synthetic cannabinoids is similar in its mechanism of action to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. This group binds to the same receptors (CB1 / CB2) as THC, but with a partly more than 100 times stronger bond, which explains its significantly more intense effect. Synthetic cannabinoids thus imitate the effects of THC yet differ in their structure1 . Because of their mechanism of action, they are also referred to as cannabimimetic (mimicking = imitating) or cannabinoid receptor agonists.

  • In 2019, synthetic cannabinoids were tested for the first time as an additive in cannabis flowers or hashish in various Swiss drug-checking offers.
  • Since the beginning of 2020, the Drug Information Centre (DIZ) of the City of Zürich has been increasingly analysing cannabis samples which users believed that had been treated with synthetic cannabinoids.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids were found in more than half (50 of 91) of the samples in the course of laboratory analyses.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids are largely unexplored and are suspected of causing severe side effects and even death.
  • The assessment that cannabis is a substance with a comparatively low risk of overdose has been obsolete since the appearance of synthetic cannabinoids.
  • The DIZ advises all cannabis users to exercise caution and adhere to the rules of safer use when consuming.
  • From October 1, 2020, a total of 10 cannabis samples can be handed in at the DIZ weekly
Item Type
Publication Type
International, Report
Drug Type
Cannabis, New psychoactive substance
Intervention Type
Screening / Assessment
December 2020
10 p.
Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network
Corporate Creators
Department of Social Welfare, City of Zurich
Place of Publication

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