Problems With Synthetic Marijuana
This group of drugs includes K2 and Spice, two of the first names for dangerous synthetic marijuana chemicals reported to law enforcement and drug testing labs. Since their first appearance, synthetic cannabinoids have caused tens of thousands of emergency room admissions for symptoms like high blood pressure and heart palpitations, excessively high body temperature, and psychotic effects.
Many who tried synthetic cannabinoids have died. Although the U.S. federal government banned many synthetic cannabinoids in 2012, including Spice, more continue to enter the country.
The History of Spice Abuse in the U.S.
Like other synthetic drugs flooding the illicit market and causing severe harm to people struggling with substance abuse, cannabinoids like Spice were originally part of the medical community’s exploration of various receptors in the brain to see if controlled substances, like organic marijuana, could be useful for some medical treatments.
Scientists had to learn how receptors in the brain, like cannabinoid receptors, worked. To figure this out, they created several molecules related to the original organic compound. Medical researchers developed 300 chemicals just related to marijuana. Very few were tested on humans, but the research was published.
Once information about these compounds was published, it could be found online. Since the mid-2000s, clandestine drug laboratories have used these compounds to develop intoxicating and dangerous drugs.
According to reports, in 2008, a laboratory in Germany found that one of these marijuana-related research chemicals had been found in a harmful drug called Spice. Because the compound was not technically illegal under drug laws in many different countries, including much of Europe and the U.S., it was easy to sell these drugs online and in stores as “incense,” “glass cleaner,” or other chemicals with enticing foil packaging. The packages bore the phrase “not for human consumption,” but most people who bought Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids intended to abuse them to get high.
Spice was one of the first types of synthetic marijuana released into the U.S. After devastating overdoses, hospital visits, and too many deaths, several states in the country have banned Spice.
But banning one chemical does not ban all types of synthetic cannabinoids. It is very easy for manufacturers to create another type that is technically different from the banned version, even if it produces incredibly similar effects.
Synthetic Marijuana: Distantly Related to Organic Marijuana With Much Worse Effects
Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids are human-made chemicals with some similarities to organic marijuana compounds, most often tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The chemical is often found:
- Sprayed onto leaf matter so it looks like organic marijuana.
- Sold as a distilled oil for vaping.
- Added to herbal tea or food and consumed orally.
But Spice is not the same as organic THC. It has very different effects on the brain and body.
Mental and emotional side effects associated with Spice include:
- Elevated mood.
- Relaxation, leading to sleepiness and passing out.
- Altered perception or awareness of surrounding people and objects.
- Delusional or disordered thinking.
- Feeling detached from reality.
- Other psychotic symptoms like paranoia and confusion.
- Violent behavior toward oneself or others.
- Suicidal thoughts.
Physical risks and side effects of Spice include:
- Rapid heart rate, leading to heart attack.
- Elevated blood pressure.
- Vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems.
- Breathing problems.
- Kidney damage.
- Muscle damage.
Spice and related types of synthetic marijuana are dangerous because the chemicals have never been tested on humans, so the impact of the drug is always unpredictable.
They are also dangerous because there is no regulated amount in any dose. Each package contains a different combination of synthetic marijuana chemicals and different doses. If one package gave you a mild high, the next one could cause you to overdose.
Packages of synthetic marijuana might contain other drugs, including fentanyl or synthetic cathinones like bath salts or flakka. In some recent cases, synthetic marijuana has even been laced with rat poison.
Although there are many severe dangers associated with abusing Spice and related drugs, synthetic cannabinoids continue to proliferate because they are much cheaper than marijuana, even in places with legalized recreational cannabis. If the chemical has not been made illegal, the substance is easy to find in convenience stores, tobacco shops, and other retail outlets. It can even be purchased online.
Because there is no age restriction on synthetic cannabinoids as there is for legalized recreational marijuana, more adolescents and young adults purchase Spice. Ultimately, it’s just easier for virtually everyone to get their hands on Spice and other types of synthetic marijuana.
There is little information on how addictive Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids might be because these drugs are still very new. People who have taken Spice regularly report that they suffered consequences when they tried to stop using it. These side effects are similar to withdrawal symptoms, and they include the following:
- Low energy
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Breathing problems
Medical experts currently believe that the severity of withdrawal symptoms is linked with how much Spice the individual abused and for how long.
Overdose: The Biggest Risk of Synthetic Marijuana Compounds
Organic marijuana is a very addictive substance, but it is rare for people who abuse the drug to overdose on it. In contrast, synthetic marijuana chemicals like Spice are more likely to cause an overdose than intoxication. They are too potent for many users.
For example, some compounds are 800 times more potent than organic marijuana. Knowing which types of synthetic marijuana are more potent than others is impossible since there is no regulation when they are created and distributed. This means you can quickly overdose and die if you consume Spice or a related drug.
Some medical researchers believe that synthetic cannabinoids like Spice have longer half-lives than organic marijuana. The chemical’s duration of action in the brain, causing ongoing effects, means that severe symptoms take much longer to go away. One report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) found that one type of synthetic marijuana bound 100 times more tightly to the CB1 receptor, compared to naturally occurring THC.
- Heart attacks.
- Severe kidney damage and failure.
- Psychotic symptoms that require sedatives.
In 2011 in the U.S., there were 28,531 emergency room visits linked to synthetic marijuana like Spice, and 78 percent of these admissions were for people between the ages of 12 and 29. About 70 percent of these people were male.
Drug Detox & Rehabilitation to Treat Spice Addiction
Since Spice, K2, kush, and other synthetic cannabinoids were released into the U.S. and began harming thousands of people, several states have banned these drugs. The federal government has also banned various types of synthetic marijuana.
Local and state governments are now finding methods of banning the whole group of synthetic cannabinoids rather than banning individual compounds. This makes it less likely that replacements will almost immediately pop up after an individual compound is banned.
Since synthetic drugs like Spice are newer substances of abuse, there are currently no medications that can assist in the detox process. Supportive medications may be used to address specific symptoms of withdrawal, such as anxiety, insomnia, or other issues.
A comprehensive addiction treatment program is generally recommended to address addiction to Spice and other forms of synthetic marijuana. By working with medical professionals to safely detox and then proceeding to behavioral therapy in an evidence-based rehabilitation center, you can overcome addiction to chemicals like Spice.