Understanding Spice Addiction: Dangers & Side Effects
In This Article
What is Spice?
The drug called spice is a synthetic cannabinoid and a cheaper alternative to marijuana. Despite being advertised as a “safe alternative” to cannabis, synthetic marijuana can be dangerous and, in some cases, fatal.
Spice is a blend of lab-manufactured mind-altering chemicals. Although synthetic cannabinoid is similar to marijuana, it’s much stronger and sometimes triggers different reactions.
Spice is illegal for use in the military and various states. However, manufacturers can sometimes get around the law by altering the mixture of ingredients, labeling it “not for human consumption,” and/or marketing the drug as incense.
Is Spice Addictive?
Spice is a very addictive drug. It continues to evolve and is now the second most commonly abused drug among high school seniors.9
People with a spice addiction tend to experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not using it. These withdrawal symptoms include:
New chemicals are often added and tampered with to create new spice variations. The Office of the National Drug Control Policy related that 51 new synthetic cannabinoids were recognized in 2012. Since then, new psychoactive substances have been introduced.
Spice Addiction Symptoms
Over time and with frequent intake, users of the drug can develop a spice addiction.
Spice addiction triggers a variety of symptoms, including:
- Obsessive and disordered thinking
- Neglecting personal hygiene and physical appearance
- 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 with a synthetic marijuana addiction might also experience health problems, such as an increased heart rate, vomiting, or hallucinations.
How Do People Consume Spice?
People commonly consume spice by smoking the dried plant material. However, it can also be sprayed on dried, shredded plants and sold as liquids for vaporizing in e-cigarettes. Some also brew tea or sell it as herbal or liquid incense.
Spice Street Names
Spice has various street names and is often sold over the Internet, at head shops (stores that sell drug paraphernalia), or gas stations. Clinical language typically uses the terms synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic marijuana, or fake weed in reference to the drug.
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
- Bombay blue
- Legal cannabis
- Mary Mack
- Moon rocks
- Red X Dawn
- Solar flare
- Yucatan fire
Is Spice Detectable in Drug Tests?
Spice can be challenging to detect in standard drug tests because of how its composition changes. Still, synthetic marijuana can remain in the body for prolonged periods. Below are the screening detection times for synthetic marijuana:
- Urine: 152 to 505 days7
- Saliva: 24 to 48 hours8
- Hair: Up to 90 days
Factors affecting how long spice remains in the human body include:
- Frequency of use
- Age and general health
- Method of consumption
- History of drug abuse
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Side Effects of Synthetic Cannabinoid Products
Many of the short-term side effects of abusing synthetic marijuana are similar to those that occur when a person uses natural cannabis.
For example, common psychoactive effects include:
- Elevated mood
- Detachment from reality
- Changes in psychosis perception
It’s also possible to experience negative side effects when using synthetic marijuana. These include:
- Increased heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Greatly increased hunger
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Violent behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
There have been instances of fatal heart attacks linked to synthetic marijuana. Because there is no regulation for the manufacturing of spice, there is concern that heavy metal residues could be present in the drug.
Long-Term Side Effects of Spice
There is little research regarding the long-term side effects of a spice addiction. However, its known ingredients have frequently led to physical and cognitive symptoms, including:
- Permanent brain damage
- Kidney damage
- Psychotic episodes
Other adverse effects that could lead to long-term disorders include extreme anxiety, confusion, paranoia, and depression. Prolonged use can potentially cause a relapse of mental illness, especially in spice users with a family history of mental and psychotic disorders.
Taking spice with alcohol can be even more dangerous because of potentially lethal combinations. In addition, synthetic cannabinoids often include unknown substances that can attack the central nervous system, potentially causing permanent damage.
Spice’s Effects On the Brain
Spice’s effects on the brain are often comparable to those of marijuana, as they attach to the same brain cell receptors as THC (the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana). However, spice often causes significant consequences that are unpredictable and dangerous.
Many chemicals in the drug remain unidentified, and it is unclear how they may affect the user. Manufacturers tend to alter the ingredients to avoid drug laws, making it impossible to know how safe the end product is.
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Treatment for Spice Abuse & Addiction
Addiction treatment is effective in reducing many of the withdrawal effects that occur when a person stops using synthetic cannabis. Treatment options are available on an outpatient or inpatient basis.
Inpatient treatment usually includes a medically supervised detox or treatment intended to ease withdrawal. The recovery process may occur for 30, 60, 90, or more days.
Outpatient treatment can include a combination of:
- Individual and group counseling
- Participation in a sober living program
- Support for co-occurring conditions
People can ensure long-term recovery by opting for aftercare once they complete treatment for substance use. Aftercare options include:
- Psychotherapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Contingency management, which promotes abstinence through incentivization
- Sober living resources
Can MAT Treat Spice Addiction?
However, a health professional may prescribe medication to alleviate withdrawal symptoms or behavior/mental health co-occurring disorders. Long-term treatment may be impactful for people who develop side effects that mimic schizophrenia.
How Do I Know I Need Treatment?
If you find spice occupies a significant amount of your time and resources, chances are you could benefit from treatment. The same is true if you experience physical withdrawal symptoms when not using synthetic marijuana products or if 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 synthetic cannabinoid products.
Spice addiction is an epidemic with fatal consequences. Many spice users develop or exacerbate existing mental disorders, experiencing negative consequences like paranoia, violent behavior, brain damage, and kidney failure.
While there are few scientific studies regarding the dried plant materials in spice, there is more information regarding the chemicals it contains.
Despite being an alternative to marijuana, spice use is still banned within the military and some states. Spice is most popular among high school seniors and individuals who use it to self-medicate. Fortunately, individuals can seek addiction treatment via inpatient or outpatient programs.
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- “Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice).” Drugabuse.Gov, 31 Dec. 2017
- “About Synthetic Cannabinoids.” 2020
- Zimmermann et al. “Withdrawal phenomena and dependence syndrome after the consumption of "spice gold".” Deutsches Arzteblatt International, 2009.
- Cooper, Z.D. “Adverse Effects of Synthetic Cannabinoids: Management of Acute Toxicity and Withdrawal.” Current Psychiatry Reports, 2016.
- NIDA. "Spice." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021
- “Synthetic cannabinoids: What are they? What are their effects?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2018.
- Castaneto et al. “Quantitative urine confirmatory testing for synthetic cannabinoids in randomly collected urine specimens.” Drug Testing and Analysis, 2014.
- Blandino et al. “Oral Fluid vs. Urine Analysis to Monitor Synthetic Cannabinoids and Classic Drugs Recent Exposure.” Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, 2018.
- Debnam et al. “Synthetic and Other Drug Use among High School Students: The Role of Perceived Prevalence, Access, and Harms.” Substance Use & Misuse, 2018.