The overall prevalence of Spice abuse has gone down over the years. According to the 2020 Monitoring the Future Study, 1.6% of 8th graders, 2.5% of 10th graders, and 2.4% of 12th graders use Spice. This is much lower compared to the results of the 2016 survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That survey showed that 2.7% 8th graders, 3.3% 10th graders, and 3.5% 12th graders used synthetic marijuana.
That being said, the continued use of this illegal substance is still a concern due to the dangers it poses. While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has tried to prevent the creation and distribution of this drug, the people creating it are able to avoid detection by changing the chemical formulas they use. In fact, over 200 synthetic cannabinoids are known to be used in the manufacture of Spice, but only 50 of these chemicals have been illegal by the DEA. In addition, many standard drug tests are not able to easily detect these chemicals. Moreover, Spice is often marketed as a safe and legal alternative to marijuana. They’re even often labeled as “not for human consumption” and sold as incense or potpourri.
Spice, also known as K2 and Black Mamba, is a mixture of dried herbs and shredded plant materials that have been sprayed with laboratory-made chemicals that mimic the mind-altering effects of marijuana. Specifically, the effects of its main psychoactive component which is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This drug is often referred to as “synthetic cannabinoids” or “fake weed.” Other common names of Spice include:
The use of synthetic cannabinoids have reduced over the past few years. This may be due to the fact that marijuana is now legally available in many states. However, people who wish to pass drug tests typically opt for Spice because synthetic cannabinoids cannot be detected using traditional marijuana drug screens.. Another common reason people choose to take Spice is because it is a cheaper alternative to marijuana and other types of mind-altering drugs. Some even believe that Spice can help them avoid the possibility of getting addicted. Moreover, these drugs are easily obtainable. They’re sold in convenience stores, paraphernalia shops, gas stations, novelty stores, and even online.
While Spice may be marketed as safe and natural, it is anything but. The only natural ingredient in this drug is the shredded plant materials and herbs. Everything else is synthetic. The chemical formula, as we’ve mentioned, can differ from one manufacturer to another. Because of the many variations on the formula, it can be difficult for people to really know exactly what they are taking. This makes the effects of Spice actually quite unpredictable and highly dangerous.
Most people smoke Spice by rolling it into a “joint” or using a pipe, similar to how people smoke marijuana. Some add the dried plants to their herbal tea or food. Others buy Spice in liquid form to use in e-cigarettes.
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Synthetic cannabinoids attach to the same cannabinoid receptors that THC, the ingredient in marijuana that produces its mind-altering effects. However, it binds to the receptors more strongly which cause stronger effects. These include euphoria, feelings of well-being, serenity, elevated mood, creative thinking, and an altered perception of reality.
After taking Spice, a person will start to feel its effects within 3 to 5 minutes. The high can last from 1 to 8 hours, depending on how potent it is. In fact, synthetic cannabinoids can be 100x more potent than marijuana.
Since the actual ingredients in Spice are different for each brand, the other side effects of the drug may vary. Below are some of the side effects or symptoms that occur after taking K2 or Spice:
Research on the long-term side effects of K2 abuse is still minimal, especially compared to other illegal drugs. However, based on observation, long-term Spice usage can cause:
Yes. There have been numerous cases of people overdosing and/or dying due to Spice usage. From January to May 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were 15 deaths related to Spice misuse. In 2016, there were 130 reported overdoses on K2 in New York over a period of one week. In 2017 alone, there were over 210 cases of overdoses reported in Pennsylvania and Newark, New Jersey. In fact, between 2011 and 2017, there were more than 31,000 calls made to US poison control centers due to synthetic cannabinoid effects. Because there are various chemicals and formulas of Spice available, it is difficult for people to know how much of the drug can cause an overdose.
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Similar to many mind-altering drugs, Spice can be addictive. And because there’s no information on what the “safe” dosage is, the period between first use and addiction is shorter. Once people start taking Spice, their body starts to develop tolerance and dependence. When that happens, the effects become reduced even if they use the same dosage. This leads to higher doses and more frequent use.
People who have become addicted to Spice may experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop using. These include headaches, anxiety, irritability, and depression. Other signs and symptoms of addiction include:
Similar to other drug addictions, treatment for Spice or K2 addiction starts with detoxification. It takes around a week (at least) for a Spice user to remove the toxins from his body. However, the cravings for the drug will take time. Coupled with the withdrawal symptoms, it is recommended that users undergo detoxification through an inpatient rehab program. Medical personnel will be able to monitor the patient and ensure that there are no complications. The team will also be able to help curb the cravings and relieve some of the withdrawal symptoms.
Once detoxification is done, the patient will need to undergo behavioral therapy and counseling. It is important that a user understands the root cause of his addiction, his triggers, and how to cope better. The treatment plan may require the patient to undergo lifestyle changes, develop healthier habits, and form strong relationships to create a support system. Take note that each treatment plan will be unique, specifically designed to cater to the needs of the patient.
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