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Current Year Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

CAMH first facility in Canada offering test for synthetic cannabis

 March 26, 2013 - The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is the first clinical lab in Canada to offer a test to detect the presence of synthetic marijuana in the body.  Health Canada recently issued a warning about the dangers of herbal products combined with cannabis-like chemical compounds, scientifically known as synthetic cannabinoids, being sold in stores.

More potent and resulting in more adverse effects than more natural marijuana, synthetic cannabis has been linked to hallucinations, hypertension, chest pain, acute psychosis, seizures, and even suicides, according to Health Canada.  Such newly created chemical compounds require new tests to detect them. Until now, synthetic marijuana could not be detected in the body of consumers without sending their urine away to a U.S. laboratory for testing and waiting weeks for results. 

Synthetic cannabis testing
CAMH Clinical Biochemist/Toxicologist Cristiana Stefan holds samples of synthetic cannabis. The mass spectrometer makes CAMH the first clinical lab that can detect synthetic cannabis in urine samples.

“CAMH’s new capacity to test for synthetic marijuana will help clinicians improve client care,” said Cara Vaccarino, CAMH Director of Medical Affairs. “The test will also help researchers track use rates and inform public health strategies in the community. As the only lab in Canada capable of carrying out this test, CAMH will be a resource to other hospitals across the country requiring the test.”

This test will help physicians, nurses and clinicians link laboratory results to unexplained clinical symptoms. Even in the absence of symptoms, positive lab results can provide evidence of consumption and allow health care providers to advise clients of the potential dangers of these products.

“The ability to carry out this new test at CAMH gives us the unique potential of identifying an unlimited number of synthetic compounds from the JWH family of chemicals found in these herbal products, which can help us stay ahead of the manufacturers,” said Cara Vaccarino.  “This will also enable us to expedite test results. We no longer have to send samples to the United States and wait several weeks for results.”

Synthetic marijuana is often marketed as “smokeable herbal incense” or “exotic herbal incense,” but these seemingly benign herbal products can have serious consequences for those who use them.

CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please visit

Media contact: Michael Torres; (416) 595-6015;


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