What is K3 Spice Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana may indeed be synthetic or “made in a lab somewhere”, but there certainly isn’t any marijuana in any of the dozens of compounds lumped together under this very wide umbrella of designer drugs. Designer drugs, also known as synthetic drugs, are illegal substances that are slightly altered chemically. Being “slightly” different means they can be sold legally online or in smoke shops.1 Designer drugs are so-named is because they bind with the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain and mimic the effect of marijuana (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient of cannabis. One such compound is AB-PINACA, better known by its street/brand name K3.

Pfizer originally developed AB-PINACA as an analgesic in 2009, then in 2012 in Japan, it surfaced as a component of synthetic cannabis products. More forensic detections emerged in other countries by 2013. It actually became one of the most prevalent substances in the U.S. in 2014. This compound is a potent agonist for the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. It is also a full substitute for THC  that is 1.5 times more potent as shown in rat studies. K3 has been implicated in a number of reported death and hospitalization cases but very few details are available.2

By 2014-2015, K3 has been identified in the streets as the 2nd generation of synthetic cannabinoids to become available after K2/Spice.

K3 Drug Type

Synthetic cannabis products including K3 are stimulants. Real marijuana is a mild hallucinogen-depressant, but it can also act as a stimulant depending on a person’s response to it. Synthetic marijuana products, on the other hand, are powerful stimulants that have serious and usually severe side effects because their composition is largely an unknown combination of unstable and dangerous chemicals.3

DEA Drug Class

Effective October 2017, the DEA placed AB-PINACA (K3) and its salts, isomers, and salts of isomers into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. 4

Schedule I drugs, chemicals or substances are those that have no accepted medical use as of the present time and have a high potential for abuse. Other examples of Schedule I drugs include: 5

Effects of K3 on the Brain

Synthetic cannabinoids affect the same brain receptors that are affected by THC, but much more potently because THC is only a partial agonist and synthetic cannabinoids like AB-PINACA (K3) are full agonists.  

There is limited information on the effects of K3 on the brain, but because they are more potent, their effects are also stronger and more unpredictable. Also, because most synthetic cannabis products constantly change in their chemical composition to avoid regulation, it has been difficult to form any clear product profile. The effects are similar to those produced by real cannabis:6

  • Elevated mood
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Altered awareness
  • Confusion
  • Detached from reality
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Relaxation

Side Effects of K3

Being a “synthetic cannabis”, the side effects of using K3 may be based on why adolescents seek them out, the marijuana-like high that they provide – euphoria and relaxation. But perhaps a more realistic source of information about the effects of K3 are the people who have actually tried using them. Some claim that the effects didn’t last very long, at least not as long as those they got from K2/Spice:

  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Bright but blurry vision
  • Tingling tongue
  • Hangover-like sensation7
  • Uncomfortable internal disquiet8
  • Severe headaches
  • Strong nausea/vomiting
  • Tremors or shakes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia9
  • Confusion

The long-term effects are not fully understood because there simply aren’t enough studies about K3 except for what is reported by the experts from poison centers, that using synthetic marijuana (K3 included) can be life-threatening:

  • Addiction
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Myocardial ischemia
  • Paralysis
  • Renal damage
  • Seizures

Testing for AB-PINACA (K3)

Teens have easy access to this drug, and parents are understandably concerned. Getting an adolescent to submit to a home drug test for K3 (or any drug) may in itself be a huge dilemma for parents, but knowing that there are instant K2/K3 drug tests available for use in the privacy of their home should ease the tension at the very least, because then the child in question will not have to stress over being dragged to a testing center.

Screening Cut-off and Detection Time for AB-PINACA


Cut-off Level

Approximate Detection Time

Urine test

25 ng/ml  

2-10 days


1 https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/synthetic.html


3 https://www.addict-help.com/k2-drug-synthetic-marijuana-spice.asp

4 https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/fed_regs/rules/2017/fr1016.htm

5 https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ds.shtml

6 https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cannabinoids

7 https://www.pitch.com/news/article/20577762/will-k3-fake-weed-get-you-high-the-pitch-smokes-up-er-product-tests-for-you

8 https://www.thepetitionsite.com/990/883/790/ban-k2k3spice/

9 http://www.bluelight.org/vb/threads/732237-AB-PINACA-BAD-NEWS!!!!!-SYNTH-CANNABIS-TRAINWRECK-twice-in-one-week

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