Spice and K2 are some of the oldest street names for synthetic marijuana. No matter what you call it, this selection of illegal drugs is extremely dangerous. What’s worse, there is not a single specific type of chemical formula behind these names, putting users at a greater risk of overdose.
Spice can include a variety of dangerous chemicals. The one thing they all have in common is that they are manmade and intended to mimic the high created by marijuana. However, Spice is anything but natural and its effects can be severe. This makes Spice misuse an important issue—one that organizations work hard to address through education and outreach efforts. We share the facts.
What Is Spice and What Other Names Does It Go By?
Spice is sometimes called “K2” or a number of other street names. No matter the label, Spice is classified within a larger group of synthetic cannabinoids. However, don’t let the term “synthetic marijuana” fool you.
Synthetic cannabinoids are very different from other cannabis products, including marijuana. The public largely views marijuana as harmless in small amounts. However, synthetic marijuana is very strong and addictive.
Synthetic marijuana is created with the intent of replicating the effects of marijuana. However, it can be up to 28x more potent than the real thing. Synthetic marijuana also contains a number of dangerous chemicals. Even worse, potency and formulation vary from batch to batch.
Why Is Synthetic Marijuana So Unpredictable?
Synthetic cannabinoids are often manufactured overseas in places like China, India, and Pakistan. This means there’s little supervision, consistency, or quality control during manufacturing.
Given the inconsistent manufacturing process of Spice, users can be misled by past experiences. For example, a user taking the same amount of Spice for a second time may not have the same experience they did before. Changes in the formula from one batch to the next impact strength and side effects.
The reason why inconsistent manufacturing makes Spice so dangerous boils down to overdose risk. A user has no way to know how strong a batch of Spice is. In fact, a user has no way to know exactly what chemicals went into the batch. Some of these chemicals have the ability to land you in the hospital, even in small amounts.
Is Synthetic Marijuana Legal?
Synthetic cannabinoids have been marketed on the internet and even in places like gas stations. Often, they’re advertised as marijuana’s “legal” alternative. However, rarely are synthetic cannabinoids safe or legal.
There have been a number of poisoning cases and safety concerns associated with synthetic cannabinoids. In response, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) moved to reclassify them. The DEA declared prevalent synthetic cannabinoids to be Schedule I drugs. Schedule I officially makes synthetic marijuana a controlled substance. In response, manufacturers simply altered the chemical formula to keep their version of the drug on the market.
Recently, the DEA was able to classify any synthetic combination as an illicit drug. This made manufacturing and importing synthetic cannabinoids more difficult. Still, that hasn’t kept Spice or K2 off the market completely.
How Is Synthetic Marijuana Misused?
Spice started becoming popular in the mid-2000s. Spice used to be sold in gas stations, corner stores, and head shops. Since Spice is now illegal in the United States, it’s sold on the black market.
Typically, Spice is taken in the form of e-cigarettes and vape pens or by smoking. However, it can also be sold as “incense.” When sold as incense, the chemicals are sprayed onto plant matter. The incense can then be smoked or brewed into tea. It’s important to note that the plant matter is entirely unrelated to real marijuana.
The incense, or “potpourri,” can be sold online too. It’s hidden behind bright foil packaging and labeled with street names. The packages are marked as “herbal incense” and “not for human consumption” — another workaround to regulations. However, this doesn’t make Spice legal to purchase or consume.
What Are the Dangers of Synthetic Marijuana?
Spice is a synthetic drug that’s often made overseas with little quality control. So, one of the biggest dangers of synthetic cannabinoids is that there is hardly any consistency from one batch to the next. Even batches from the same manufacturer are likely to have different ingredients. This has led to a number of poisoning cases being reported and widely publicized.
Due to their formulation, synthetic cannabinoids are very strong. However, the effects can be mixed depending on the exact ingredients. Reported effects range from stimulating or hallucinogenic to dissociative.
If used regularly, synthetic cannabinoids will create physical dependence. Poisoning can occur through Spice or K2 use, whether an individual is using the drug on its own or mixing it with other drugs.
Overall, synthetic marijuana is unpredictable and highly potent. Unknown chemicals go into each dose. Plus, those chemicals change from batch to batch. Worse yet, the toxic effects of Spice can vary from psychiatric to neurological. Numerous individuals have even become disoriented and psychotic while under the influence of Spice or K2.
The Facts on Spice Misuse
The dangers of Spice have led to major concerns throughout the world. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime shared that, between the years of 2006 and 2015, there was a steady, global market for synthetic cannabinoids. Trends showed significant use among adolescents during this time. Substantial increases were also seen in the homeless and prison populations.
Like many drugs, synthetic cannabinoids are targeted toward the most vulnerable. Primary targets are young teens, like those in middle school and high school, using such names as Scooby Snax or Mr Happy. However, K2 use among younger individuals has declined significantly since the 2000s. Excellent drug control and public awareness campaigns have been a huge help.
Now, homeless and prison populations are being targeted. Synthetic marijuana is often marketed to these people as a cheaper alternative to marijuana. For this reason, public education campaigns outside of schools are crucial. If vulnerable adults were more aware of Spice and its risks, fewer would take it.
High School Spice Misuse
More recent NIDA data from 2014 to 2017 shows the use of synthetic cannabinoids among young students. It looked at 8th-grade, 10th-grade, and 12th-grade students. Trends showed a decreasing use rate in these groups, as follows:
- For 8th graders, the percentage of students reporting use of synthetic cannabinoids was 3.3% in 2014, 3.1% in 2015, 2.7% in 2016, and 2% in 2017.
- For 10th graders, the percentage of students reporting use of synthetic cannabinoids was 5.4% in 2014, 4.3% in 2015, 3.3% in 2016, and 2.7% in 2017.
- For 12th graders, the percentage of students reporting use of synthetic cannabinoids was 5.8% in 2014, 5.2% in 2015, 3.5% in 2016, and 3.7% in 2017.
These numbers show a steady decline in use, but the media continues to report on use problems. The greatest reasons for the decline in use are the educational attempts by the government.
These seek to teach children and adults about the dangers of synthetic cannabinoid use. Overall, synthetic cannabinoid use is rare when looked at next to other drugs, such as alcohol and (real) marijuana. However, it’s still featured in the media due to overdoses, poisonings, and intoxication.
K2 Use by College Students
Spice use appears more common in the Northeastern United States. Still, there are various reports of poisonings among Midwest college students.
In 2010, one study polled over 3,000 students from 11 colleges in North Carolina and Virginia. Students were polled at the time of admission about their Spice use, and 7.6% reported using Spice or K2 at some point in their lifetime. By the fourth year, when the students were polled again, 17% reported having used Spice or K2 at some point in their lifetime.
A number of college students see synthetic drugs as an opportunity to experiment with substances. College students also have easier access to drugs, additional peer pressure, and the stressors of school.
So, it’s known that college can lead to increased drug use. However, many colleges throughout the Midwest have responded to this risk through education efforts on the dangers of Spice and K2.
Since there are few concrete numbers to begin with, it’s difficult to quantify how education efforts have impacted Spice use. However, past data does reveal that anti-drug education is a worthwhile prevention tactic. That’s why schools, law enforcement, and government agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continue educating people (particularly young people) on the dangers of drugs and synthetic cannabinoids.
Poisonings Due to Spice and K2
There are no specific, reliable statistics to demonstrate use of synthetic cannabinoids across the United States. Still, there are poisoning admissions that help professionals calculate the use of these drugs. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared data from 2010 to 2015 that reveals poisoning cases from K2, Spice, and other synthetic cannabinoids.
From 2010 to 2015, the CDC reported several cases of synthetic cannabinoids poisoning. Of all cases reported, 61% were due to the sole use of synthetic cannabinoids, and the remaining reports from a combination of synthetic cannabinoids and other drugs.
About 71% of these cases were adult patients (i.e., between the ages of 19 and 65), while 27% of the cases were teenaged patients between the ages of 13 and 18. More than 83% of those cases were male patients.
In April 2015, the CDC, along with health professionals in the state of Mississippi, investigated a surge in illness that turned out to be the largest reported outbreak of synthetic cannabinoid-induced sickness reported after an ER doctor noticed a spike in emergency room visits. The investigation uncovered over 700 total reports of synthetic cannabinoid-induced illness and 11 deaths.
Why Are Poisonings More Prevalent Now?
The media’s presentation of drugs like Spice and K2 can easily leave an individual with the impression that use is rampant. Especially across the midwest. However, organizations like NIDA and the CDC suggest otherwise. While news reports cover real cases of toxic reactions and overdoses, they primarily represent use by homeless individuals and those in urban areas.
In reality, the rising numbers of poisonings are not thought to be because of widely increased use. Rather, they’re due to the government controlling the distribution of these substances, which led to manufacturers altering formulas and using even more dangerous chemicals in order to make them “legal.” Those changes created a higher risk of toxicity and death in users.
The government continues to monitor these substances. They’ve also partnered with educators and law enforcement for outreach and prevention efforts. The goal is to reduce first-time use, future use, and overdose.
Identifying Substance Use Disorder
Substance misuse, dependence, and addiction are terms the general public often uses to describe a person’s reliance on a drug. The clinical term for addictive behaviors resulting from the use of a drug is substance use disorder.
The term “substance use disorder” combines the notions of misuse, dependence, and addiction with new research showing that the addictive behaviors leading to misuse, dependence, and addiction are inseparable conditions.
Professionals view misuse, dependence, and addiction as related conditions that occur at once. This means they acknowledge that misuse, dependence, and addiction must be treated together. To diagnose a substance use disorder, a professional simply observes their behavior. There are no medical tests, laboratory tests, or brain scans neededto detect such a disorder.
The severity of a substance use disorder in an individual can be determined by any number of symptoms. However, these disorders generally manifest themselves as:
- Nonmedical use of a drug, leading to difficulty functioning and/or significant distress.
- Struggles in controlling self-use of the drug, indicating addictive behavior.
- Continuing to use the drug, despite experiencing ramifications associated with its use.
- Significant cravings to use the drug again, especially with disregard for the circumstance.
- Physical dependency symptoms, such as tolerance and withdrawal.
There are specific criteria that an individual must meet in order to be diagnosed with substance use disorder in a formal setting. Only a licensed mental health clinician can make the diagnosis of a substance use disorder.
However, individuals around the person will often recognize many general indicators of the issue. If they do, they should express their concerns. Researching the issue, reaching out to the person directly, or attempting an intervention are important.
Seeking treatment for an individual who is suffering from a substance use disorder can be complicated. This is only worsened by the fact that most people with a substance use disorder refuse help. This could be because they’re unconvinced that they need help or they’re worried about legal consequences.
Treatment for K2 and Spice Misuse
In general, the treatment for Spice or K2 misuse is similar to that advised for any substance use disorder.
These methods are research-based and prove to be effective. NIDA has shared the most effective components, including:
- Managing withdrawal and its symptoms. This is often done with a medical detox program. Such a program may involve physical, mental, and pharmaceutical intervention.
- Withdrawal medication may be administered as needed. This medication is given in small doses to help treat symptoms associated with withdrawal. Symptoms that may benefit from medication include anxiety, insomnia, and mood instability.
- Treating psychological and physical conditions at the same time, while also treating the core of the substance use disorder.
- Intervening with behaviors through one-to-one therapy, peer support groups, and similar non-medical interventions. Having lots of support and people to talk to makes recovering from any substance use disorder easier.
- Assuring personal responsibility. This may be done through the use of randomized drug testing if it’s deemed necessary. Drug testing may come in the form of hair, blood, urine, or saliva samples.
- Following established techniques for treating substance use disorders. At the same time, professionals should customize treatment to the individual’s specific needs. Every recovery plan should be tailored to the unique person behind it.
- Targeting interventions and timing them appropriately to prevent relapse. The plan will also address relapse if it occurs.
- Retaining an individual in treatment for a sufficient amount of time to reduce the chance of relapse and other problems associated with recovery.
The treatment center you choose will affect care. A recovery plan may include one-to-one therapy sessions, peer discussion groups, detox medication, wellness classes, and other components. Ultimately, the best recovery plan is the one that’s tailored to your needs.
It’s very important that your treatment plan addresses you as an individual. The most effective treatment will involve conversations with a trusted professional who can guide you past the challenges. You should also choose a plan that will keep you in touch with a professional long after your initial “treatment” is over.
Above anything, if you’re seeking substance use disorder support for yourself or a loved one, make sure it includes ongoing support. It’s not possible overcome the addictive properties and severe withdrawal symptoms of addiction alone. Having a team of medical professionals by your side is the fastest way to a better life.
Get Help Today
Are you interested in learning more about the path to recovery? With a combination of mental, physical, and behavioral tools, you can overcome dependency and symptoms.
Ready to take the next step? Call Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439 to learn more.