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The pharmacology and toxicity of synthetic cannabinoids


Synthetic cannabinoid containing products have become available in Australia since about 2010 with brand names such as Spice, Kronic, K2, Tai High and Zeus. Although these products are disingenuously labelled as “incense” or “aromatherapy” products, and “not for human consumption”, their branding and packaging indicates that they are intended for smoking or vaporising as unregulated cannabis substitutes. The consumption of these synthetic cannabis products has been linked to many hospitalisations and some deaths in both the USA and Australia. 
Understanding the toxicity of synthetic cannabinoids poses a significant challenge given the rapid chemical evolution of this class of compounds over time (see Banister SD, Moir M, Stuart J, Kevin RC, Wood KE, Longworth M, Beinat C, Wilkinson SM, Glass M, Connor M, McGregor IS, Kassiou M (2015). The pharmacology of indole and indazole cannabinoid designer drugs AB-FUBINACA, ADB-FUBINACA, AB-PINACA, 5F-AB-PINACA, 5F-ADB-PINACA, ADBICA, and 5F-ADBICA. ACS Chemical Neuroscience; Banister SD, Stuart J, Conroy T, Longworth M, Manohar M, Beinat C, Wilkinson SM, Kevin RC, Hibbs DE, Glass M, Connor M, McGregor IS, Kassiou M (2015). Structure-activity relationships of synthetic cannabinoid designer drug RCS-4 and its regioisomers and C4-homologues. Forensic Toxicology). The project will focus on recently evolved SC compounds, particularly those detected in the last 2 years that have been strongly linked to adverse outcomes. We will synthesise these molecules and examine both their in vitro and vivo effects. 


Professor Iain McGregor.

Research location

School of Psychology

Program type



Specific aims of the current project may include:
1. If biological and toxic effects of SCs are exclusively mediated by cannabinoid (CB) receptors, or whether there are other actions that explain such effects 2. The structural components of SCs that confer CB receptor activity and/or toxicity 3. Whether SC effects in vivo are predicted by their in vitro cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1R) affinity and efficacy 4. Whether SCs produce acute and long-term signs of toxicity in laboratory animals that are analogous to those currently being observed in humans

Additional information

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2009

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