Synthetic cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are substances that mimic the effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is largely responsible for the major psychoactive effects of cannabis. Since at least 2008, producers in Europe have exploited this effect by importing bulk powders of the cannabinoids and mixing them with dried plant material in order to create hundreds of different ‘legal high’ products. These were then marketed as legal replacements for cannabis and sold as ready-to-use ‘herbal smoking mixtures’. Synthetic cannabinoids continue to be the largest group of new substances monitored by the EMCDDA and are becoming increasingly chemically diverse, with 169 detected since 2008 - including 11 reported in 2016, a decrease from the 24 reported in 2015.

In 2015, just over 22 000 seizures of synthetic cannabinoids were reported. The five most commonly seized synthetic cannabinoids in 2015 were ADB-FUBINACA, AB-CHMINACA, UR-144, 5F-AKB48 and ADB-CHMINACA.

Seizures of synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones reported to the EU Early Warning System: trends in number of seizures and quantity seized

Number of seizure cases


Number of seizure cases


Cannabinoids (tonnes)


Cathinones (tonnes)


Data for EU, Turkey and Norway

These seizures amounted to more than 2.5 tonnes of the substances. Almost two thirds (64 %) of the synthetic cannabinoid seizures were in the form of herbal mixtures, with powders accounting for 13 %.

The detection of synthetic cannabinoids in powder form and of processing facilities in Europe indicates that products are packaged in Europe. These powders, when processed into ‘herbal smoking mixtures’, could have been capable of producing many millions of doses. The most commonly seized cannabinoids in powder form in 2015 were 5F-AMB (61 kg), 5F-AKB48 (61 kg) and ADB-FUBINACA (57 kg).