K2 or spice may have been designed to mimick marijuana, but the damage it inflicts is far greater.
Users of this synthetic cannabinoid can experience overdose or death. Reports of spice overdoses in pockets of the country seem to affirm this notion.
In 2018 alone, a dangerous batch of K2 resulted in 56 overdoses in Brooklyn, New York; in Chicago, K2 was blamed for severe bleeding in 56 overdose victims, of which two died; and in New Haven, Connecticut, a bad batch caused almost 80 overdoses in a 24-hour period and more than 100 total. There were 1,054 K2 overdoses in September in Washington, D.C., according to The Washington Post.
The appeal of K2 or Spice is that it is cheap and readily available. A bag can cost $5, and a joint can go for one or two dollars. Men in their 20s and 30s are the biggest users, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Homeless people represent a growing number of K2 users due to the drug’s affordability. That’s what also makes the drug appealing to teenagers who tend to seek out cheaply obtained highs.
Yet, the excruciating, if not graphic details of K2 overdoses lend it a certain degree of horror. One of the Brooklyn overdose victims, a middle-aged man, collapsed on the street, according to a witness. As he laid on his back “grimacing with hands clenched,” he started coughing and spitting up blood and bile as a Good Samaritan assisted him.
The fact that Spice can produce such grievous effects in a user only hints at the type of damage it can do to a developing brain, especially that of an adolescent. While the opioid crisis relentlessly dominates the news cycle when it comes to hazardous drug overdoses, K2 should not go ignored. It, too, poses multiple and catastrophic threats to the body, even death.
What Is K2?
When synthetic cannabinoids were created, the intentions were noble. These human-made compounds were developed so that scientists could “study the structure and function of cannabinoid receptors,” states the CDC. They are named cannabinoids because they contain chemicals similar to the ones found in the marijuana plant.
However, cannabinoids like K2 started to become drugs of abuse, particularly in Europe. They started appearing as drugs for sale on the continent in 2005 and were made available in the U.S. in 2008.
K2 got its name from the second-highest mountain on earth in China. Thus, it remains one of the most widely-abused synthetic cannabinoid blends.
When K2 is being formulated as a substance of abuse, it is dissolved in a solvent like ethanol or acetone. Once liquefied, it is sprayed on various plant leaves. Those leaves are typically Dog Rose, Lion’s Ear, Indian Warrior, and/or Marshmallow, which, by themselves, produce psychotropic effects on the mind.
K2 can come as shredded plant material or as an herb or spice mixture. It is also sold in liquid form. It is often packaged and sold in small, shiny packages emblazoned with eye-catching graphics or popular cartoon characters. Dealers will sell it under the “not for human consumption” label to keep it from being banned under the Federal Analogue Act of 1986. Yet, users can smoke or vaporize K2 as they would marijuana.
Synthetic cannabinoids like K2 act on the same brain receptors as THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. While there is not much information on spice’s effect on the brain, there are instances where the synthetic substance binds more strongly to receptors than THC, which leads to far stronger effects.
Like all synthetic cannabinoids, the chemical makeup of K2 can vary from batch to batch, which can inflict effects that range from mild to severe. Sometimes, a K2 batch doesn’t produce any discernible effects whatsoever. In 2014, for example, authorities reported 177 different synthetic cannabinoids.
When K2 is formulated to produce marijuana-like effects, users report feeling relaxed and elevated. They also experience altered perception and awareness regarding the objects around them.
Still, K2 tends to trigger reactions far more severe than marijuana, devastating a user’s brain and body in the process. That’s why it is misleading to regard the substance as a synthetic version of marijuana.
It is much more devastating.
How Dangerous Is K2?
K2 is highly addictive, quickly ensnaring users in a cycle of tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
The damages that K2 can inflict on the body are manifold, impacting the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and psychiatric realms of the body.
According to the CDC, synthetic cannabinoids can be two to 100 times more potent than THC. This is why it produces complications far worse than marijuana.
What It Does to the Brain/Central Nervous System
A CDC study reported that 61 percent of respondents who had only been exposed to synthetic cannabinoids experienced negative effects on their CNS and brain. They reported feelings of agitation, CNS depression, coma, delirium, and psychosis.
Other psychiatric effects of K2 include seizures, hallucinations, violent behavior, suicidal thoughts, and even stroke.
What Does K2 Do to Your Brain?
Spice attaches to the same nerve cell receptors as THC, the chemical in marijuana that produces mild-altering experiences. Some of the other chemicals in K2/Spice attach to the receptors more strongly than THC leading to significantly stronger effects. Also, there are other unidentified chemicals that can be sold as Spice, so it is not clear how those affect the brain and the person using them. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for Teens reminds readers that the nefarious dealers who sell Spice change the chemicals around often to avoid current drug laws. There is no clear research on how K2 affects the brain, except to say that it is unsafe and potentially dangerous to use drugs of unknown origin and chemical makeup.
Additionally, K2 and Spice are sold in stores and usually have colorful packaging with the wording of it being a “natural product.” It is not a natural product but one that is completely chemical. K2 and Spice are also sold as a liquid or herbal incense.
This Forbes article explains how Spice affects the brain. Synthetic cannabis binds to the CB1 receptors in the brain and acts as a full agonist rather than a partial agonist. This means it activates that receptor on a brain cell with full efficacy. The THC in marijuana activates the receptor with partial efficacy. K2, Spice, and the other names it’s sold under are not the same as pot. The article stresses that the potency of synthetic cannabis is 100 or more times greater than THC. The CB1 receptors are in every region of the brain. The compounds in Spice and K2 are stronger-binding and last longer than other compounds and can activate in different areas of the brain, which may result in some very adverse effects for the person using the drug.
It is imperative to also know that the metabolites of synthetic cannabis bind to the receptors as well as the drug does. When you use drugs, like pot, or a stimulant, your body metabolizes it and begins to flush it out. When using K2 or Spice, your body has decreased function to deactivate the metabolites.
What It Does to the Cardiovascular System
Synthetic cannabinoids like K2 can inflict permanent damage to the heart and circulatory system. A user can experience rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, hypertension, chest pains, and even heart attack.
What It Does to the Kidneys
As if those effects weren’t enough, synthetic cannabinoids can also cause substantial damage to the kidneys. A 2012 study reported that a sampling of users experienced acute kidney injury. Another complication users experienced was rhabdomyolysis, which is a death of muscle fibers that leads to their contents being released into the bloodstream. This action can lead to kidney failure.
Why Teenagers Are Particularly Vulnerable
What makes teenagers particularly vulnerable to K2 or spice use is the fact that the drugs are cheap and readily accessible. They also mistakenly view it as a safe and legal substitute for marijuana, which still carries a Schedule I designation under the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The federal agency did schedule five synthetic cannabinoids into Schedule I in 2010.
Synthetic cannabinoid use is on the rise among high school seniors, according to a September 2017 New York University study. The researchers reported that three percent of high school seniors said they used K2, spice, or bath salts. Half of them said they used synthetic cannabinoids more than three times in a month.
What’s more, 20 percent of those seniors reported using a synthetic cannabinoid almost daily—between 20 days to 30 days in the past month. Plus, eight out of 10 of them said they used marijuana as well.
It’s worth noting that a 2017 Monitoring the Future (MTF) Study reported that 3.7 percent of high school seniors reported using synthetic marijuana.
K2’s ability to inflict complications such as seizures, hallucinations, psychosis, and even stroke can cause irreparable damage to the developing brain of a teenager or adolescent.
Is K2 Bad for You?
Yes, K2 is bad for you. Whether it goes by the commonly known K2 or Spice names, or any of its other names (Bliss, Black Mamba, Blaze, Bombay Blue, Fake Weed, Legal Weed, Genie, Zohai, Red X, Dawn Scooby Skunk, Snax), synthetic cannabis is not synthetic marijuana, but a dried plant treated with unknown chemicals, which can cause many negative effects if used.
K2 is bad for you due to the extremely adverse psychological and physical effects it can cause to your brain and body. For instance, K2 use and abuse can:
- Result in acute kidney injury
- Result in extreme anxiety, agitation, paranoia, confusion
- Result in altered perception
- Result in psychosis or a detached sense of reality
- Result in having hallucinations that can cause further harm
- Result in a reduced supply of blood to the heart
- Result in seizures
- Result in an overdose, which resembles that of a stimulant overdose
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warning for synthetic cannabinoids states that they are sold “on the Internet, in head shops, tobacco/smoke shops, convenience stores, and gas stations and are often packaged in shiny plastic bags with bright logos.” They are currently classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, the most restrictive. Furthermore, many of the compounds in K2 and Spice are illegal at both the state and federal level, per the Drug Policy organization. If you are caught buying any synthetic cannabinoid or using it by law enforcement, you will likely be in legal trouble and be recommended for drug abuse treatment.
Teen Spice Abuse
Results of synthetic marijuana (Spice) abuse for teens from the 2020 Monitoring the Future Study, as published by NIDA, indicates that teen spice abuse was up 1.6% for eighth-graders over use reported in 2019, was marginally up for 10th graders, and declined to 2.4% for 12th graders.
Teen Spice use and use of K2, as well as the other names it goes by, may seem like a fun way to get a quick high. Its brightly colored packages sold in convenience stores, head and smoke shops, and other places, make it seem like what you want to buy is fake marijuana. What you will get instead is a packet with some dried leaves treated with unknown chemicals that can affect you dangerously, cause hyper-aggressive behavior, cause serious physical effects, and potentially overdose.
K2/Spice Abuse Statistics
- According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there were 28,531 emergency room visits involving K2/Spice in 2011.
- A study conducted by the American College of Medical Toxicology reported that between 2010 and 2015, there were 42,138 cases of toxic exposure to synthetic cannabinoids from 101 clinics and hospitals.
- 27.4% of synthetic cannabinoid intoxication cases occurred in patients between the ages of 13 and 18, according to the American College of Medical Toxicology.
- 83% of synthetic cannabinoid intoxication cases were male, states that same study.
Why Medical Attention and Professional Treatment Is Necessary
Because synthetic cannabinoids like K2 and spice can inflict severe bodily injuries, medical treatment is absolutely essential along with a medical detoxification. In a professional addiction treatment setting, detox will be medically supervised where patients will be monitored around the clock for physical effects or any evidence of chronic illness.
Once you or a loved one has been medically stabilized, outpatient treatment may be the next best step after detox. At this stage, you will receive the counseling and therapy to help you break the chains of psychological addiction.
A team of experienced clinicians will also help you navigate aftercare options to help maintain your sobriety and prevent relapse.
Get Help for Your K2/Spice Addiction
Teens, parents, and guardians of teens should be aware of what individuals will go through if Spice is removed from the child’s possession and they no longer have it to use. Teen Spice abuse treatment is encouraged if you have abused synthetic cannabinoids.
- Teen spice abuse is associated with dependence and addiction. When you experience withdrawal symptoms, your system becomes dependent on Spice. If you stop using it abruptly, you may experience:
- Recurring seizures
- Heart and respiratory risks, such as chest pain, palpitations, difficult or labored breathing
- The more commonly felt withdrawal symptoms of Spice are:
- Intense cravings
- Severe anxiety
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excessive sweating
Teen Spice abuse treatment starts with detox that is medically observed for 24 hours or for as long as it is needed. Once detox is complete, residential or outpatient treatment may be recommended. These treatment types provide behavioral therapies, along with educational sessions to bolster you on your way to ending Spice abuse forever.