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A chemical-rich marijuana substitute often called “Spice” helped marijuana fans get high without the fear of failing a drug test. But teens began filling hospital beds after smoking it, and the government cracked down on its distribution. Reports show that people who smoke Spice have an alarming risk of addiction.

  • Drug Name Spice
  • Addiction Liability Moderate
  • Scientific Name Synthetic Cannabinoids
  • Street Names Herbal Incense, Spice, K2, Yucatan Fire, Solar Flare, Bliss, Kush
  • How It's Used Smoked
  • Side Effects Nausea, Paranoia, Abdominal Cramps, Hypertension, Hyperactivity, Seizures
  • Psychological Dependence Moderate
  • Physical Dependence Moderate

Synthetic Marijuana: A History of Spice & K2

Synthetic cannabis grew to be part of the American drug culture in the mid-2000s as marijuana users searched for a new way to get high — one that might help them pass a drug test. Customers made Spice and K2 two of the most popular new products, and the drugs continue to be a concern for law enforcement and drug treatment specialists because of their addictive properties and serious side effects.

Packaged and sold as a mixture of natural herbs or herbal incense that are free from ingredients that show up in blood and hair tests, synthetic marijuana products pack much more of a punch than anything sold at the health food store.

As kids began sampling Spice, K2 and other products as a way to avoid possessing and smoking an illegal drug (pot), they quickly discovered a new way to get high. What’s more, Spice and K2 are sold over the counter. Gas stations and tobacco shops carry Spice, which is mostly just cheap crumbled leaves sprayed with chemicals and marketed with colorful labels and catchy names.

As more people smoked Spice, an increasing number of horror stories showed up on the nightly news. Kids became addicted to the drug, occasionally winding up in hospitals with any number of severe side effects. Ingesting the product, which contains a mish-mash of hazardous chemicals, sent hundreds of users into fits of psychosis and did permanent damage to organs.

“It’s literally poison,” said Clay Morris, a DEA special agent in Alabama. “We have several bad batches of Spice in circulation in our state,” Morris said. “It’s just too potent.”

While the problem reaches a wide range of ages, the product clearly resonates with teens. In 2012, 11 percent of high school seniors admitted smoking Spice.

Spice and its Effect on Teenagers

Crackdowns by the DEA may have made Spice harder to find than when it first came out, but countless retailers still sell one or more varieties of it. Many teens who abuse Spice struggle with addiction, battling vivid hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.

The addictiveness and intensity of Spice draws comparisons to crack and meth because of the tumultuous relationship users regularly develop and because of the inconsistent quality of the product.

You can go from spreading a bag across a few days to a few hours until you eventually can’t function without it. Teens often steal cash from family members to afford their next fix. And despite the disturbing side effects, addicts all-too-often inhale the drug until it sends them to the hospital.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Tina Canter, whose 20-year-old son began a three-year addiction to Spice when he was 15, a habit had him in and out of rehab, told Your4State.com. “It’s heartbreaking that it’s still out there that it’s still being sold and that people are able to get a hold of it.”

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Identifying a Spice Addiction

Hallucinations and paranoia, loss of control of bodily functions and heart issues may indicate someone you know abuses Spice or one of the many derivatives.

11.3 Percent of high school seniors used Spice in 2012.
When using it consistently, users are bound to experience a bad trip at some point, which can send them into an alarming state of delusion. Stories exist of teens seeing the devil, talking to people who aren’t there, and any number of other frightening hallucinations.

Teens embroiled in Spice addiction will show a number of other signs: changes to their personality, suspicious behavior, hanging out with a new crowd and becoming aggressive or withdrawn. If you notice someone close to you exhibiting these signs, you may need to intervene and help them put a stop to this extremely dangerous habit.

Overdose and Other Side Effects of Spice & K2

Reports of overdose and death have increased every year since Spice hit the market. It’s impossible to predict the effect of the drug because each batch is different and each user will have a different reaction. A single use can be fatal.

“Connor Eckhardt died after taking ONE HIT of synthetic marijuana (SPICE, K2, POTpourri),” reads a Facebook page created by his parents, in an effort to spread awareness about the dangers of the drug.

Other side effects of smoking Spice include:

Long-term effects of the drug can include cardiovascular, psychiatric, and neurological problems that may be irreversible. Intense violent behavior occasionally results from smoking Spice; multiple suicides have been attributed to the drug.

Little research exists about the side effects or treatment of synthetic cannabinoids. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine reported two cases of suspected withdrawal syndrome related to the long-term use of Spice. Although the researchers described a lack of suitable treatment options for withdrawals from synthetic marijuana, they cited therapy with benzodiazepines as a reasonable and efficient first-line approach.

A 2016 study published in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports found that benzodiazepines and the antipsychotic drug quetiapine quelled some of the withdrawal symptoms of K2. However, the author stressed a need for more research into effective treatment for synthetic marijuana use disorder given the increasing popularity of the drug.

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