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Why is Spice (K2) so Dangerous?

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Originally published May 10, 2016. Last updated February 19, 2024.

Spice, or K2 weed substitute, is a synthetic cannabinoid and designer drug that is supposed to mimic the psychoactive effects marijuana has on certain THC brain receptors. Synthetic cannabinoids such as cannabicyclohexanol, JWH-073 and HU-210 are sprayed on various herbs that are sold as spice, or “legal pot.” Marketed as herbal blends or herbal incense, synthetic spice does not cause positive results in blood or urine tests for marijuana. However, it may be detected as metabolites in urine.

Because many of the synthesized compounds found on K2 herbs bind more powerfully to THC receptors in the brain, they often initiate unpredictable and dangerous effects on those smoking or consuming spice. In fact, some of these compounds have been found to be over 150 times more potent than marijuana THC. Users also have no idea what kind of potentially toxic chemicals could have been incorporated in the making of these compounds. Spice dealers do not care whether their product harms users. They only care about getting their product legally to stores that sell synthetic spice.

Side Effects of K2 Herb and K2 Weed Substitute

SAMHSA reports that toxic doses of spice resulted in nearly 11,500 ER visits in 2010. Symptoms exhibited by patients suffering from K2 side effects include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme anxiety and agitation
  • Dangerously high blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Tachycardia
  • Confusion/mental disturbances
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart attack due to myocardial ischemia
  • Catatonia, or inability to move or respond to external stimuli

A few research studies have indicated that possible long-term synthetic marijuana side effects may involve disorders resulting from heavy metal residues incorporated in K2 chemical compounds.

Is Spice Addictive?

Although users often suffer powerful, psychoactive effects from smoking K2, they can still become addicted to spice due to its strong, agonist properties. As the brain grows accustomed to an abnormal flood of neurotransmitters caused by synthetic compounds in spice, the addiction also grows, compelling K2 users to get high and risk enduring severe physical and psychological health issues.

What Happens During Spice Addiction Withdrawal?

Evidence for spice addiction comes from users reporting very real and frightening withdrawal symptoms. While many signs of spice withdrawal resemble the same symptoms seen in non-designer drug addicts, spice addicts seem to experience more psychological symptoms when withdrawing. These K2 dangers include, but are not limited to:

  • Nightmares, night terrors and sleepwalking
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Paranoia and delusional thinking
  • Hallucinations
  • Suicidal ideation/attempts

Withdrawing from synthetic marijuana spice should never be attempted without professional medical intervention. If you or someone you know is addicted to spice and needs to enter an addiction recovery program as soon as possible, contact Synergy Recovery Services to make an immediate appointment with one of our addiction specialists.

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About the Author:

President, Medical Director: Jan Trobisch, MD

Dr. Jan Trobisch graduated from the esteemed Freie Universität Berlin in 1999 and completed his residency training in Internal Medicine at Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, California, by 2004. After his residency, Dr. Trobisch worked as a hospitalist and served as an attending physician for the residency program. He founded Synergy Wellness Center in 2009.

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