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What is Spice/K2

What is Spice/K2? Our blog examines new psychoactive substances (NPS), their risks, and addiction to synthetic weed. Learn more in our blog.

Spice/K2: What You Need to Know About Synthetic Cannabinoids & Their Dangers

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

June 23, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

Spice/K2 are just two of the many names for synthetic cannabinoids.

Synthetic cannabinoids are chemicals that were developed for research purposes. They were used by researchers to test the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana (or cannabis). With ever-changing ingredients to stay one step ahead of the authorities, these synthetic drugs are among the most dangerous and unpredictable drugs to abuse.

Stats About Spice:

The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) has indicated that synthetic marijuana, spice, and K2 have become a preferred choice among the youth. According to their reports, around 2.4% of 12th graders in the United States of America have used synthetic cannabis.

What is Spice/K2?

Spice/K2 is just one of the many names for “fake weed,” or “synthetic cannabis.” This is a very wide class of designer drugs that use derivatives of research chemicals. These drugs are often sold under many different brand names:

  • Spice

  • K2,

  • Moon Rocks

  • Potpourri

Spice/K2 is made by spraying chemicals on dried herbs, which are then smoked. Many versions of Spice/K2 are packaged in foil and labeling them as potpourri and incense. They also trick officials by labeling “Not for human consumption” on its packet. 

Sometimes, Spice/K2 labels claim that the product is made using natural materials from different plants. This claim is false, as the only natural part of the drug is dried-up plant matter. Besides that, the chemical results indicate that mild-altering ingredients in the spice drug are made in laboratories.

t is also sold in a liquid formulation for people to smoke through vaporizers and e-cigs. These drugs are sold at head shops, convenience stores, and gas stations under herbal or liquid incense formulations. 

The drug's legal status is a little complicated as it is banned in some states and easily accessible in others. The chemical makeup of Spice/K2 changes constantly as a way to stay ahead of the authorities. Teens and young adults are primary spice users as it is sometimes easier to get than other drugs.

Also, Spice/K2 rarely shows up on drug tests, making it an attractive drug for some.

Many countries worldwide have made spice illegal due to its dangerous withdrawal symptoms. It has also been recognized that the side effects are much more adverse when compared with natural cannabis.

Spice/K2 can produce psychological symptoms like hallucinations and paranoia. It can also cause physical complications like kidney failure, myocardial ischemia, and even heart attack. 

What is Spice/K2 Made Of?

Synthetic cannabinoids are made by shredding or spraying chemicals on plant material. The chemical used is known as cannabinoids. People often interchangeably use the terms synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic marijuana/fake weed.

Spice/K2 belongs to a group of drugs named NPS or New Psychoactive Substances. They are newly found mind-altering substances that are currently unregulated in the market. They produce effects that are similar to other illicit drugs in the business. Some NPS are new, while others are reintroduced with altered formulations.

NPS are often sold with different, colorful packaging. They are sold in plastic bottles and colored foil packs to gain attention. 

For years, synthetic cannabinoid mixtures have been available in online and offline shops like gas stations, drug shops, and novelty stores. The authorities have made some of these chemicals and products illegal as they have no medicinal use. Various manufacturers have tried bending the law by mixing new chemical formulas.

There is a huge misconception about these products as being less harmful or having a natural origin. They are, in fact, worse than organic marijuana and can lead to severe long-term health issues. Another essential thing to note is that it's not easy to detect synthetic cannabinoid traces in standard drug tests. 

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How Does Spice/K2 Work?

Cannabis/marijuana has a psychoactive ingredient known as THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. Our brain contains cannabinoid receptors as it produces and releases cannabinoids on a low level. THC is a major psychoactive component that binds to our brain's cannabinoid receptors. This binding process alters the user's memory, time perception, and coordination.

Spice/K2 works the same way, but these drugs are far, FAR stronger than THC. Instead of the effects, THC causes, these drugs often make someone feel intense anxiety. Additionally, the random nature of these drugs means the effects they produce can be completely random.

Where Does Spice/K2 Come From?

Researchers interested in studying the effects of it had a hard time finding samples as cannabis is still federally illegal. This is why they developed synthetic cannabis. However, synthetic cannabis is often far, far stronger than the THC found in marijuana.

A Harvard University chemist named John Huffman is the father of the chemical formula that created synthetic THC. In the 1990s, Huffman got funding to study cannabinoids, and he created a compound named JWH-018. It was the infamous synthetic cannabinoid. The background behind the funding was the federal restriction around the manufacturing, selling, purchasing, and consumption of real marijuana. However, several years later, the formula became a substitute for natural marijuana. 

Most Spice/K2 sold today is made in overseas laboratories and shipped (or smuggled) into the US. Many of these laboratories operate without any kind of safety and sanitary regulations, adding another level of danger to Spice/K2 abuse.

Risk Factors Behind Spice Drug Addiction

A report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated that over 28,000 emergency department visits have been about spice use. Unfortunately, there is no single reason or cause behind the development of spice addiction. Although researchers have found out, there are several risk factors behind its abuse and addiction. 

Genetic Risk Factors for Spice/K2 Addiction

Genes and family history are the biggest risk factors behind substance abuse. Addiction is a disorder that can be passed down through generations. Several studies have found that some genes can make an individual vulnerable to abusing Spice/K2. 

Environmental Risk Factors for Spice/K2 Addiction

Environmental factors are another reason a person abuses synthetic marijuana. For instance, when a person has been exposed to such drugs since childhood, they become susceptible to abuse in the future.

Other environmental factors that can push someone toward it include violence, trauma, lack of parental attention, poor coping methods, exposure, lack of social support, and easy access. 

Additional Risk Factors for Spice/K2 Addiction

Other risk factors are poverty, teenage years, lack of parental supervision, family history of abuse, male, history of mental illness, traumatic experience in the past, history of substance abuse, and lack of healthy stress management skills. 

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What are Some Spice/K2 Symptoms?

There are various mental and physical signs and symptoms of abusing spice/K2. Let's have a look at each of them in detail.

Physical Symptoms of Spice/K2 Abuse

Some adverse physical signs and symptoms of spice are shakiness, agitation, hallucination, vomiting, increased hunger & thirst, slurred speech, and excessive sweating.

Psychological Symptoms of Spice/K2 Abuse

Synthetic marijuana affects the central nervous system and interrupts natural activities. K2 use can disproportionately increase these naturally occurring activities. As a result, its use may lead to symptoms related to schizophrenia-like paranoia, delusion, anxiety, muddled thinking, and agitation. The symptoms mentioned above are believed to occur in cases with high doses of spice consumption. 

Additional Symptoms of Spice/K2 Abuse

The use of spice can also lead to additional symptoms such as altered personality, abrupt changes in social interactions, reduced motor response, slow reflex and coordination, and lack of appropriate emotional response.

In addition, Spice.K2 can also impact a person's cognitive functioning, including problem-solving thinking, ability to comprehend and process complex concepts, short-term memory, learning skills, decision-making process, and even attention span.

What are the Side Effects of Spice/K2?

Synthetic marijuana can have dangerous effects of both short-term and long-term nature. It is an addictive substance that can cause a person to develop psychotic symptoms and other serious physical health complications like kidney failure and heart attack. Let's have a look.  

Short-Term Side Effects of Spice/K2

The first reactions after using spice are euphoria, relaxation, and altered perception. However, soon it can change to undesirable effects like hypertension, vomiting, paranoia, agitation, panic attack, hallucination, paranoia, myocardial ischemia, and anxiety. 

Long-Term Side Effects of Spice/K2

These include brain damage, kidney failure, heart attack, cognitive impairment, stroke, unemployment, legal problem, decreased work performance, trouble in personal relationships, suicidal ideation, and even death. 

Can You Overdose on Spice/K2?

The primary spice user demographic consists of young teens and adults. They are often unaware of the potency of the drug. Many people think they can smoke an equal amount of Spice/K2, like organic cannabis. This lack of knowledge can lead to spice overdose.

Spice/K2 overdose symptoms can include:

  • Confusion

  • Delirium

  • Disorientation

  • Respiratory distress

  • Hallucinations

  • Confusion

  • Seizure

  • Cardiac arrest

  • Coma 

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What are Spice/K2 Withdrawal Symptoms?

People can also experience spice withdrawal effects when they try to stop their regular dosage. These symptoms can include fatigue, insomnia, nausea, anxiety, agitation, diarrhea, hot and cold flashes, intense craving, vomiting, and suicidal ideation. 

Spice/K2 Drug Treatment & Recovery 

It can seem almost impossible to stop when someone has been addicted to a drug like spice. However, it becomes much easier with the help of professional treatment. Drug recovery programs are designed to help people break the chains of abuse. These structured treatments are created to achieve long-term recovery.

Treatment for spice abuse is similar to other forms of addiction. It will include pharmaceutical and therapeutic treatment to address both physical and psychological symptoms. First, they will have to go under medical detox treatment. It will help stabilize the patients after they are taken off the drug. They will experience withdrawal symptoms once their body is removed from all the toxic substances. The medical team will manage it without or without the use of medication. Next, there will be two treatment types:

Residential/Inpatient Addiction Care for Spice/K2 Abuse

The patients have to physically live in the facility and receive medical treatment for about 30-90 days long programs. 

Outpatient Addiction Care for Spice/K2 Abuse

This is a more flexible form of drug treatment. Here, the patients can live in their own homes but frequently visit the facility for treatment. 

People getting treatment for spice abuse also have behavioral counseling to support them. Most rehabs offer therapies like:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on deep questions, such as the underlying cause of addiction and healthy ways to prevent triggering. 

Contingency Management (CM)

CM offers tangible reinforcement through movie coupons and discount vouchers to maintain sobriety. 

This is followed up by aftercare plans such as sober living houses, support care groups, individual therapy, and alumni meet-ups. They are designed to help the patient maintain sobriety and minimize the chances of relapse. 

Trapped in Spice/K2 Abuse? Reach out to The Forge Recovery Center

Spice/K2 is an extremely dangerous drug to abuse. Put simply, it’s abusing completely random chemicals. There are no guarantees of what’s inside a packet of Spice/K2.


As addictive as Spice/K2 can be, there’s hope – Spice/k2 addiction responds well to treatment. The Forge Recovery Center has experience treating addiction to new psychoactive substances. Our evidence-based practices help people build new lives for themselves without the risk of Spice/K2 abuse.

Addiction to Spice/K2 is treatable. Contact The Forge Recovery Center today to learn more about our Spice/K2 treatment program.

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