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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

Spice and K2 (Synthetic Marijuana)

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 – and one that might help them pass a drug test. Customers made Spice and K2 two of the most popular new products, and they continue to dismay law enforcement and drug treatment specialists because of their addictive properties and their 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.

From mid-March to mid-April of 2015 in Alabama, 96 people were hospitalized after using spice, two of which died.

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.

They’re literally targeting 12- to 17-year-olds. Just look at the packaging alone. . . . All those things are marketed to children.

Clay Morris, DEA special agent

Spice Addiction

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.

I was going to die. If I wasn’t going to kill myself, I was going to die. From the time I woke up, first thing that came to mind was hitting it (wondering), ‘How am I going to get it today or when am I going to get up to go get it.

Brandon Goodwin, a 19-year-old recovering from Spice addiction

“I had a knife up to my neck one time. I hallucinate when I want it or when I think about it,” Goodwin said. “I didn’t want to associate with anyone unless they had it.”

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.

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“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” said 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. “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.”

Signs and Symptoms

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.

Side Effects of Smoking 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 incredibly 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.

Help and Treatment

Contact a local treatment facility or drug counselor to find out where and how you can find help. Extensive research on treating Spice addiction does not yet exist, but a stay in rehab has yielded many success stories for breaking addicts away from the habit.


The first step in a successful recovery from Spice addiction requires detoxification and taking away an addict’s ability to smoke more. Many treatment facilities offer detox amenities. Under the supervision of medical professionals, addicts can work through detox gradually until the drug is out of their system. In case of a patient showing withdrawal symptoms, or intense cravings to smoke Spice, detox proves most effective when done in a proper facility with the aid of medical supervision.


Following detox, a typical stay in rehab incorporates one of several possible forms of therapy. Doctors will assess the severity of the addiction and the best course of action based on the patient’s needs.

Young woman in one-on-one therapy session

The most common methods of therapy include one-on-one behavior management and group counseling sessions. Through a proper therapy regimen, patients will learn the root causes of developing their addiction and ways to mold their perspective regarding drug use. Therapy can help an addict return to their daily life with a renewed sense of purpose and the motivation to rid drugs from their routine.

Staying Clean

Temptation is everywhere, and for a recovering Spice addict, staying clean may present a years-long challenge. Many addicts on the recovery path choose to attend meetings at 12-step groups such as Narcotics Anonymous. These community support programs provide a welcoming and non-judgmental place for people to go and share their story, while meeting people just like them, going through similar struggles. As a supplement to rehab, community support groups often help addicts stay accountable for their actions and continually be reminded of the risks involved with their old substance habit.

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