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The use and effects of synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists by New South Wales cannabis treatment clients


Jackson, MA and Brown, AL and Johnston, J and Clancy, R and McGregor, I and Bruno, R and Lintzeris, N and Montebello, M and Luksza, J and Bowman, J and Phung, N and Allsop, D and Dunlop, AJ, The use and effects of synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists by New South Wales cannabis treatment clients, Journal of Cannabis Research, 3, (33) pp. 1-13. ISSN 2522-5782 (2022) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright Statement

2021. The Authors. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License (, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

DOI: doi:10.1186/s42238-021-00091-z


Introduction Despite decreasing consumption by general populations, use of synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs) persists in some marginalised groups, including those who use other substances. This article explores SCRA consumption in an Australian cannabis treatment sample, comparing those who report ever using SCRAs with those who have never used SCRAs.

Methods A questionnaire orally administered in person to a convenience sample of 154 cannabis treatment service clients from New South Wales, Australia (71% male, median age 35) collected information regarding cannabis and SCRA use including motivations, effects and health-related consequences of use, demographics, other substance use and overall health. Demographic profiles and between-group differences were explored. McNemar tests compared effects of SCRA and cannabis. Logistic regression analysis determined predictors of SCRA use. .

Results Half (53%) reported lifetime SCRA use; 20% reported previous-month use. The SCRA + cannabis group displayed greater polysubstance use and psychological distress. Reduced dependence on cannabis but higher levels of other substance use may predict SCRA use. Although curiosity motivated initial SCRA consumption, perceived psychoactive strength drove continued use. SCRAs appear to induce more negative side-effects than cannabis. Of the SCRA + cannabis group, 27% sought medical assistance for SCRA use. Most (90%) preferred cannabis to SCRAs, citing superior safety, effects and consistency of cannabis. .

Conclusions Among clients seeking treatment for cannabis use, SCRA use was relatively common, although not a preferred substance. Hazardous substance use and poor mental health characterised SCRA consumers, highlighting the need for continued monitoring by researchers and treatment providers of SCRA consumption in populations who use substances.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist, synthetic cannabinoids, cannabis, marijuana, substance use disorder, treatment
Research Division:Health Sciences
Research Group:Health services and systems
Research Field:Health services and systems not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Health
Objective Group:Public health (excl. specific population health)
Objective Field:Public health (excl. specific population health) not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Bruno, R (Associate Professor Raimondo Bruno)
ID Code:152881
Year Published:2022 (online first 2021)
Deposited By:Psychology
Deposited On:2022-08-25
Last Modified:2022-10-20
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