Around 2008, a new group of drugs appeared in the United States. Commonly known as K2 or spice, they are often referred to as synthetic marijuana, which is a misnomer. It began as a synthetic drug developed for use in scientific research, but after the publication of the formula, street drug manufacturers began producing it for illicit sale. The street version proved dangerous in an alarming number of cases.
Chemicals in K2
When people ask, “What is spice?” it’s easiest to start by explaining what it isn’t: spice IS NOT marijuana. spice/K2 is a synthetic cannabinoid, while marijuana is a natural plant. K2 contains plant matter sprayed with cannabinoid-like synthetic chemicals. These synthetic cannabinoids target the same brain receptors as the THC present in marijuana, but they are not marijuana.
K2 is much more potent than the natural cannabinoids present in marijuana. There is no way for users to know exactly what chemicals and additives are in a dose. To give an idea of the dangers of this drug, some chemical additives found in K2 products include synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) and brodifacoum, a primary ingredient in rat poison.
Who Uses Spice?
According to CDC data, most synthetic cannabinoid users are males between the ages of 20 and 30. Spice is often used by low-income individuals because it’s cheaper than other illicit drugs. It’s also popular with high school and college students. People who use spice often use other illicit drugs too, such as marijuana.
How Do People Use Spice?
Spice is used much like any other illicit drug. People typically roll it into cigarettes or smoke it in pipes. It’s available in liquid form for use in e-cigarettes and vaping, which makes it easily accessible to practically anyone. Some people consume it in herbal teas or edibles. Because the variance in chemicals makes K2 hard to detect in drug tests, it is sometimes used to mask the presence of other drugs in urine test results.
Why Do People Use K2?
People use K2 for the same reasons they use other illicit drugs: to escape or enhance their emotions or mental state. They want to feel better, perform better, or they are just curious.
Many people use K2 because they mistakenly think it is safer than marijuana and other illicit drugs. Manufacturers often market spice as “synthetic marijuana” to make it sound less dangerous. Additionally, colorful packaging and over-the-counter sales in head shops and convenience stores further enforce the belief that this drug is “safer.”
Effects of K2
While the immediate effects of K2 are much like those of marijuana use, the drug produces more serious mental and physical symptoms in a shorter time. The many different formulations of K2 cause the effects to vary, but the following have been noted by users and observed by health professionals.
- Elevated mood
- Creative thinking
- Feelings of well-being
- Extreme anxiety
- Elevated heart rate
- Ringing in the ears
- Feeling clumsy
- Altered perception
- Delusional thinking
- Detachment from reality
- Aggressive behavior
Risks and Dangers of Spice
The immediate risks of using spice (K2) include suicidal thoughts, rapid heart rate and vomiting. Synthetic cannabinoid users may also experience severe long-term health problems:
- Elevated blood pressure
- Decreased blood supply to the heart
- Kidney damage
- Suicidal ideation
A common question is, “Can you die from K2?” and the answer is yes. The risk of overdose and death from K2 is high because there is no way for users to know exactly what chemicals are in a dose.
Is K2 Illegal?
Variations of K2 are listed as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act, which makes them illegal. The problem is the ease with which manufacturers can change their formula. Altering a single ingredient is all that’s needed to create a synthetic cannabinoid not listed as a Schedule I drug. Those sold as “incense” and “potpourri,” for example, are not controlled substances. However, the production and sale of synthetic cannabinoids can often be prosecuted under the Controlled Substance Analog Enforcement act.
Is K2 Addictive?
Yes, synthetic cannabinoids can be addictive. If you have concerns that you or someone you know may be addicted to K2, check for the following symptoms:
- Difficulty keeping up with responsibilities at home, school or work
- Use of K2 continues to increase over time
- Large amounts of time are spent using, craving or obtaining the drug
- Trying hard to cut down on K2 use but unable to do so
- Using K2 in potentially hazardous situations
- Ignoring recurring or persisting psychological and/or physical problems associated with K2 use
- Continuing to use K2 despite obvious social/interpersonal effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping use of K2
Overcoming addiction is not an easy process. Professional rehab services help users safely detox from the drug. Treatment can also provide insight on how to avoid falling back into drug use.
If you or a loved one is abusing K2, get in touch with Rehab After Work by calling (610) 644-6464. We provide compassionate, personalized care for addictions and substance abuse.