Using Web searches to track interest in synthetic cannabinoids (aka 'herbal incense')

Brenda Curtis, Kelly Alanis-Hirsch, Övgü Kaynak, John Cacciola, Kathy Meyers, Anthony Thomas Mclellan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Introduction and Aims: This article reports a content analysis of Internet websites related to an emerging designer drug, synthetic cannabinoids. The number of synthetic cannabinoids searchers in the USA has steadily increased from November 2008 to November 2011. Design and Methods: To determine the information available on the Internet in relation to synthetic cannabinoids, sites were identified using the Google search engine and the search term 'herbal incense'. The first 100 consecutive sites were visited and classified by two coders. The websites were evaluated for type of content (retail, information, news, other). US unique monthly visitor data were examined for the top 10 retail sites, and these sites were coded for the quality of information available regarding the legality of synthetic cannabinoids sale and use. Results: The Google search yielded 2730000 sites for 'herbal incense' (for comparison of search terms: 'synthetic marijuana', 1170000; 'K2 Spice', 247000; and 'synthetic weed', 122000). Moreover, in the Google search, 87% of the sites were retail sites, 5% news, 4% informational and 4% non-synthetic cannabinoid sites. Discussion and Conclusions: Many tools found within Google free services hold promise in providing a technique to identify emerging drug markets. We recommend continued surveillance of the Internet using the online tools presented in this brief report by both drug researchers and policy-makers to identify the emerging trends in synthetic drugs' availability and interest.[Curtis C, Alanis-Hirsch K, Kaynak Ö, Cacciola J, Meyers K, McLellan AT.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-108
Number of pages4
JournalDrug and Alcohol Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health(social science)


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