K2 spice and synthetic marijuana are NOT marijuana. These dangerous drugs are made up of chemicals that mimic the effects of real marijuana, and have been linked to hundreds of overdoses in recent years. During a recent three-day period in Lancaster County, PA, 102 people were reported to have overdosed on a bad batch of synthetic marijuana — many of whom were young adults in their mid-teens to early 30s.
While synthetic marijuana and K2 spice may seem like harmless versions of real marijuana, these substances are actually far more dangerous, and can lead to physical dependency and addiction.
Here’s a close look at the scary side of spice K2 and synthetic marijuana, along with tips on how to determine whether you or a loved one needs help overcoming addiction to these risky substances.
What is Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic marijuana, also known as synthetic cannabinoids, contain chemicals that mimic the effects produced by real cannabinoids found in real marijuana. Crime labs that study synthetic marijuana have found the presence of chemical compounds FUB-PB-22 and XLR-11 — both of which are highly potent substances commonly used to make illicit designer drugs. These chemicals are then sprayed on dried plants and herbs that resemble marijuana, or are sold in liquid form for vape pens and e-cigarettes.
The type and amount of chemicals found in synthetic marijuana vary from batch to batch, which is one of many reasons why these drugs are considered highly dangerous. Synthetic marijuana users never know what they’re getting, or which side effects they can expect to experience while using these drugs. In 2014, there were more than 177 different synthetic cannabinoids reported to be found in batches of synthetic marijuana like K2 and spice.
Synthetic marijuana is included in a group of drugs called new psychoactive substances, or NPS. NPS are unregulated, illegal, and classified as Schedule I drugs with no accepted medical uses and a high risk for dependence and addiction. In fact, manufacturers of synthetic marijuana will frequently change their chemical formulas to bypass laws surrounding the banning of this drug.
Synthetic marijuana is often easily accessible, and can be purchased from novelty stores, gas stations, drug paraphernalia shops, and the Internet. These drugs are frequently labeled and marketed as “organic” or “natural,” but in most cases, the only natural part of synthetic marijuana are the dried herbs and plants these chemicals are sprayed onto. Synthetic marijuana is also sometimes labeled “not meant for human consumption” so manufacturers can continue selling their supplies without reaping legal consequences.
Other names for synthetic marijuana:
- Fake weed
- Geeked Up
- Spice k2
- Black Mamba
- Moon Rocks
- Galaxy Gold
- Sky High
Common Side Effects of K2 Spice
K2 spice and synthetic marijuana bind to the same receptors in the brain as THC — the psychoactive ingredient in real marijuana. As a result, users of K2 spice may experience effects similar to that of marijuana, including relaxation and euphoria. But scientists have found that synthetic cannabinoids bind more strongly to brain receptors than marijuana, and can produce stronger effects that are largely unpredictable.
Physical and psychological effects of K2 spice:
- Elevated mood
- Altered perception and awareness of surroundings
- Extreme anxiety
Since each batch of K2 spice is unique from the next and contains a number of different chemical types and amounts, side effects can vary from those mentioned above, and range in severity. Anyone who uses K2 or spice is at risk for an overdose or adverse effects even after just one use.
The Scary Side of Synthetic Marijuana
In 2011, there were 28,531 visits to U.S. emergency rooms related to adverse effects from synthetic marijuana. From January to April in 2015, the number of telephone calls to U.S. poison control centers related to adverse effects from synthetic marijuana increased by 330 percent.
In 2016, adverse effects from synthetic marijuana resulted in a total of 2,695 calls to poison control. New York City even issued a health advisory about the dangers surrounding synthetic marijuana use after the drug landed 130 people in local emergency rooms during a three-day period in July.
Adverse effects of synthetic marijuana:
- Increased blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Panic attacks
- Chest pain
- Violent behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
Adverse health effects of spice K2 can be life-threatening for some users — especially those who have pre-existing health conditions. For instance, those with a history of heart problems are at risk for suffering a heart attack or heart failure when using synthetic marijuana. Those who experience suicidal thoughts and who also suffer paranoia, psychosis, and hallucinations are at especially heightened risk for suicide.
Who is at Risk for K2 Spice Abuse?
Studies show that synthetic marijuana abuse is most common among teens and young adults between the ages of 12 and 29, and that between 70 and 80 percent of K2 spice users are male. A 2016 study examining K2 spice use among high schoolers found that 3.5 percent of seniors and 3.3 percent of juniors used the drug within the past year. The same study found that spice K2 was the second most popular illicit drug used by high schoolers following marijuana.
Researchers say that spice K2 is commonly abused due to its easy accessibility and the misperception that these drugs are “natural” and safe to use. Spice K2 is commonly made available to minors, and features images and cartoons on its packaging intended to appeal to youth and young adults. Synthetic marijuana is also commonly abused by those who undergo routine mandatory drug testing, since the chemical compounds in K2 spice usually go undetected in routine drug tests.
People who rely on synthetic marijuana like K2 spice to relax, wind down, or enhance their moods are at high risk for abuse, dependence, and addiction. Genetics, environment, and peer pressure are other common risk factors for K2 spice abuse. Those who are unable to purchase marijuana for recreational or medicinal use on behalf of factors such as age, accessibility, or cost may also be at risk for K2 spice abuse, since synthetic marijuana may be easier and cheaper to obtain.
Signs of Synthetic Marijuana Addiction
THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain that control perception, memory, pleasure, movement, and coordination. Repeated, prolonged exposure to THC can render the brain unable to control these functions on its own without the presence of synthetic marijuana. A person who becomes dependent on synthetic marijuana and spice K2 will experience drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms when ceasing or quitting use.
Repeated, excessive use of synthetic marijuana can eventually cause someone to become tolerant to the drug — meaning higher doses are required to achieve the drug’s euphoric effects. A person who becomes tolerant to synthetic marijuana faces a higher risk for physical dependence due to the way these chemicals alter brain function. Dependence can often turn into a serious addiction when one’s behaviors change in favor of drug use.
A person who struggles with synthetic marijuana addiction will often prioritize drug use above all other important responsibilities. Addiction can lead to poor work and school performance, and strained relationships with friends and family. Long-term use of synthetic marijuana even increases the risk for mental health disorders like depression and schizophrenia, which can cause obvious changes to one’s behavior.
Common behavioral signs of K2 spice addiction:
- Changes in appetite
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and social activities
- Sleep disturbances
- Using K2 spice even when knowing there may be negative consequences
- Lying and secretive behavior
- Mood swings and irritability
- Sudden changes in personality
- Spending more time with new people, or negative influences
- Loss of employment
- Decreased performance at work or school
- Legal or financial problems related to drug use
- Inability to stop using K2 spice despite attempts to quit
A person physically dependent on K2 spice will require a certain amount of the drug to keep cravings and other withdrawal symptoms at bay. Withdrawal is the body’s way of repairing, rebalancing, and healing itself after having been dependent on strong chemicals such as those found in synthetic marijuana. K2 spice withdrawal symptoms will generally set in within 12 hours of the last dose.
Common K2 spice withdrawal symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Muscle aches and pains
- Numbness or tingling in limbs
- Abdominal cramping
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of motivation
- Problems with concentration
- Memory problems
K2 spice withdrawal symptoms can range in severity based on the potency and makeup of the chemicals in the drug. Some people have reported that K2 spice withdrawal can be as intense and painful as heroin and opioid withdrawal, which may require some to withdraw from the drug under close medical supervision.
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above behavioral signs or withdrawal symptoms associated with synthetic marijuana use, it’s possible you or your loved one needs help fighting addiction. Fortunately, K2 spice dependence and addiction can be safely and successfully treated at a drug rehab or addiction treatment center.
Getting Help for K2 Spice Dependence and Addiction
Synthetic marijuana is addictive, illegal, and dangerous, and can cause serious problems with your health and overall quality of life. The sooner you can seek treatment for K2 spice addiction, the sooner you can become healthier and start repairing your career, education, relationships, and more. K2 spice dependence and addiction is commonly treated using detox and therapy.
Drug detox is the first stage of K2 spice addiction treatment, and allows you to withdraw from synthetic marijuana in a safe, controlled medical environment surrounded by experienced nurses and doctors. Detox for K2 spice is commonly conducted as a medical detox or medically supervised detox — both of which take place in a hospital, residential, or inpatient rehab setting, and offer patients 24/7 access to medical support.
A medical detox from Spice K2 involves the use of medications that help relieve common withdrawal symptoms. For instance, acetaminophen may be used to relieve fever, headaches, and abdominal cramping, while antihistamines like promethazine may be used to relieve pain, nausea, and vomiting.
A medically supervised detox from spice K2 is usually conducted as a natural detox that allows patients to withdraw from the drug while being monitored for vital signs and proper hydration. Withdrawal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration, and be difficult for patients to manage without the help of trained nurses and doctors.
Both K2 spice detox methods are safe, effective, and widely used, and can lower the risk for any adverse complications associated with withdrawal.
Addiction Treatment Options
After going through K2 spice detox, patients can overcome psychological causes of addiction using cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT teaches patients how to identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that initially led to synthetic marijuana abuse. CBT can be conducted in an individual or group setting, and last as long as needed until patients are confident and ready to navigate the real world as sober individuals.
Support groups and 12-step programs are also commonly used in K2 spice addiction treatment, along with addiction education and relapse prevention training. Those who suffer mental health disorders like anxiety and PTSD can be treated for their co-occurring disorder at the same time as addiction. The skills patients learn in therapy can often be applied to everyday life, and can help them stay sober for weeks, months, and years to come after overcoming synthetic marijuana addiction.