The term “synthetic” has always evoked sketchy connotations. Add cannabinoids to the mix, which are still a very novel and largely unexplored territory, and the waters are bound to only get muddier, especially from a legal standpoint. First, it’s important to note that synthetic cannabinoids fall in two very different categories.
“Natural” Synthetic Cannabinoids
The first one is comprised of compounds that are the synthetic versions of cannabinoids that still occur naturally in cannabis, but usually only in trace amounts, which makes extracting them for business purposes largely unfeasible.
So, as an alternative, manufacturers derive these cannabinoids synthetically from other natural cannabinoids that can be fond in larger quantities.
The most well-known example, is Delta-8-THC. Even though it is present naturally in cannabis, most Delta-8-THC products on the market are synthesized from CBD or another cannabinoids for the aforementioned business reasons.
Even though synthetic Delta-8THC is still hemp-derived and should be legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, DEA’s amendment deems synthetically derived Delta-8-THC as illegal.
Moreover, the Federal Analog Act (FAA) doubles down on this, which treats all synthetically derived THCs and/or compounds that are “substantially similar” to federally illegal drugs illegal as well.
Nonetheless, the Delta-8-THC and Delta-10-THC markets are going strong, which begs the question how trusted are to be manufacturers that aren’t fazed by the law.
Purely Synthetic Cannabinoids
Even though they may activate the same receptors as natural cannabinoids, this category is as synthetic and unnatural as it gets. Synthetic cannabinoids can interact with the endocannabinoid system and some have been developed in the attempt of enhancing the effects of natural cannabinoids.
If “natural” synthetic cannabinoids are the equivalent of a robot that develops feelings and consciousness and is virtually indistinguishable from humans, this category is Mr. Anderson from the Matrix.
Such synthetic cannabinoids include WH-018, JWH-073 and CP47, 497-C6  which are the active ingredients of products like K2, Spice, Mr. Happy, Scooby Snax, and Kronic.
They came to prominence in the 2010s as “legal high”. Now, its legal status is murky and varies arounds different states and countries. The frantic rates at which such they sprout up and their different and seemingly infinite configurations make it hard for testing and regulatory bodies to keep up.
What is for sure is that this category poses serious health risks, even based on their strength alone that can be ridiculously high compared to regular THC and enough to turn them into a completely different drug. Toxicity and contaminants due to the lack of regulations is a whole different issue.
So in short, not all synthetic cannabinoids are made equal.
References: Atwood BK. et al. CP47,497-C8 and JWH073, commonly found in ‘Spice’ herbal blends, are potent and efficacious CB(1) cannabinoid receptor agonists. Eur J Pharmacol. (2011); 659(2-3):139-145. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2011.01.066 [Journal Impact Factor = 4.96] [Times cited = 139]