Synthetic cannabinoids were initially developed in the United States and Europe for use in research requiring cannabinoid receptor ligands. By 2008, however, these compounds had begun to be exploited as drugs of abuse, mixed with herbal packages and sold as “K2” or “Spice.” In more recent years, various new synthetic cannabinoids have appeared on the black market that are often far more potent than Δ⁹-THC and hence have strongly aversive side effects not normally seen with conventional cannabis use. For instance, a mass intoxication incident occurred in July 2016 in New York City following use of AK-47 24 Karat Gold, a product containing the synthetic cannabinoid AMB-FUBINACA (potency 85 times greater than THC at the CB1 receptor). The lay press dubbed the event a “zombie outbreak” due to the fact that the 33 individuals who used the drug exhibited an altered mental state, blank stares, groaning, and sluggish movements of the arms and legs. Such severe cases of intoxication illustrate the potential dangers of synthetic cannabinoids and the need to prevent future outbreaks.
Adams, A.J., Banister, S.D., Irizarry, L., Schwartz,M., & Gerona, R. (2017). “Zombie” outbreak caused by the synthetic cannabinoid AMB-FUBINACA in New York. The New England Journal of Medicine, 376(3), 235-242.