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Updated on September 27, 2021

Spice Effects, Addiction, Risks, & Treatment

What is Spice?

Spice is one of the brand names for synthetic cannabinoids. It is part of a group of drugs known as psychoactive substances. Additionally, it goes by several different names, including fake weed and synthetic marijuana. Other brand names used to sell spice include K2, Joker, Black Mamba, Kush, and Kronic.

The drug is a blend of lab-manufactured mind-altering chemicals. It can be sprayed on dried, shredded plants and then smoked, or sold as liquids for vaporizing in e-cigarettes. It can also be brewed as tea or sold as herbal or liquid incense. Although synthetic cannabinoid is similar to marijuana, it tends to be much stronger and sometimes triggers different reactions.

Spice is illegal, but manufacturers can sometimes avoid the law by altering the mixture of ingredients, labeling it “not for human consumption,” and/or marketing the drug as incense. Some spice users believe the drug to be natural and harmless, but this is not the case. Using spice can be very dangerous and in some cases, fatal.

Spice Street Names

Spice has various street names. Clinical language typically uses the terms synthetic cannabinoids or synthetic marijuana – or fake weed – in reference to Spice. However, those names are not used for people selling the drug or trying to abuse it.

Spice is referred to by various names, including:

  • Black Mamba
  • Blaze
  • Bliss
  • Bombay blue
  • Genie
  • Joker
  • Kronic
  • Legal cannabis
  • Marinol
  • Mary Mack
  • Moon rocks
  • Red X Dawn
  • Solar flare
  • Skunk
  • Yucatan fire
  • Zohai
  • 2K11

Spice continues to evolve. New chemicals are added and tampered with to create new variations of the drug.

The Office of the National Drug Control Policy related that 51 new synthetic cannabinoids were recognized in 2012. Since then, more have been introduced.

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Side Effects of Spice

Many of the short-term side effects of spice are similar to those that occur when a person uses marijuana. For example, common effects include:

  • Elevated mood
  • Relaxation
  • Detachment from reality
  • Changes in psychosis perception

It’s also possible to experience negative side effects when using spice. These include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Violent behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts

There have been instances of fatal heart attacks linked to spice use. Because there is no regulation for the manufacturing of spice, there is concern that heavy metal residues could be present in the drug.

Is Spice Addictive?

Spice is a very addictive drug. People who use the substance frequently tend to experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not using it. These symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Spice Addiction Symptoms

Over time and with frequent intake, users of the drug can develop an addiction. Spice addiction triggers a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Cravings
  • Obsessive thinking
  • Compulsive or continued use despite negative side effects
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Signs of tolerance
  • Neglect of other areas of your life
  • Difficulty functioning
  • Problems with focus
  • Having a desire to decrease or cease use and not being able to do so

People addicted to spice might also experience physical symptoms, such as an increased heart rate, vomiting, or hallucinations.

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Long-Term Side Effects of Spice

As spice is still new, not much is known about the long-term side effects of its misuse and addiction. However, spice’s variance in chemicals and ingredients leads to health risks for people who consistently experiment with and take the drug.

Many people have overdosed on spice. Permanent brain damage, kidney damage, psychotic episodes, and hallucinations are some of the likely side effects for people who have abused the drug over a long period.

Other side effects that could lead to long-term disorders and problems for people who take spice include anxiety, depression, and paranoia. Medical experts do not suggest taking spice because of the potential for unknown chemicals.

Taking spice with alcohol can be even more dangerous because of potentially lethal combinations.

Risks of Spice Use

Despite spice’s similarities to and occasional mixing with marijuana, it is not the same drug. One of the reasons spice and marijuana are comparable is because they sometimes trigger similar effects. This is because spice attaches to the same nerve cell receptors as THC (the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana).

Some of the chemicals in Spice attach to those receptors more strongly than THC, leading to much stronger effects. The resulting health effects can be unpredictable and dangerous. Additionally, there are many chemicals that remain unidentified in products sold as Spice, and it is not clear how they may affect the user.

There is no way to be sure what chemicals are in a dose of spice or any synthetic cannabinoid. Manufacturers tend to alter the ingredients to avoid drug laws, making it impossible to know how safe the end product is.

Treatment for Spice Abuse & Addiction

Treatment tends to make it easier to break an addiction to spice. It also increases the long-term success of spice abstinence.

Currently, there isn't medication-assisted treatment (MAT) approved for Spice. MAT is typically only used in opioid and alcohol treatment. However, if medication is prescribed, it would be to alleviate withdrawal symptoms or behavior/mental health co-occurring disorders.

Long-term courses of treatment might be necessary, especially if a person has developed side effects that mimic schizophrenia. Treatment is also effective for reducing many of the withdrawal symptoms that occur when a person stops using spice, such as irritability, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

Treatment is available on an outpatient or inpatient basis. Inpatient treatment usually includes a medically supervised detox or treatment intended to ease withdrawal symptoms. A person with a spice addiction might continue inpatient therapy for 30, 60, 90, or more days, or he or she might participate in outpatient treatment.

Outpatient treatment can include a combination of:

  • Individual and group counseling
  • Participation in a sober living program
  • Support for co-occurring conditions

How Do I Know I Need Treatment?

It can be difficult for someone with a spice addiction to recognize the need for treatment. If you find spice – either using it, looking for ways to use it, or thinking about using it – occupies a significant amount of your time and other resources, chances are you could benefit from treatment. The same is true if you experience physical withdrawal symptoms when not using spice or you find life to be unbearable when you are not using it.

You might also benefit from treatment if your loved ones have expressed concern. Their observations might be linked directly to your use of spice or general concern for your well-being.

Treatment offers the most efficient and effective path to recovery and long-term abstinence from spice use.

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Resources

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“Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice).” Drugabuse.Gov, 31 Dec. 2017

About Synthetic Cannabinoids. 2020

Zimmermann, Ulrich S et al. “Withdrawal phenomena and dependence syndrome after the consumption of "spice gold".” Deutsches Arzteblatt international vol. 106,27 (2009)

Cooper, Ziva D. “Adverse Effects of Synthetic Cannabinoids: Management of Acute Toxicity and Withdrawal.” Current psychiatry reports vol. 18,5 (2016): 52

NIDA. "Spice." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 25 Jun. 2021

Synthetic cannabinoids: What are they? What are their effects?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), April 2018

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