The use of so-called “synthetic: marijuana, also known as “K2” and “spice,” has, in recent years, become a prominent topic regarding drug use within the media. Throughout the past few years, reports of hospitalizations, overdoses, and even fatalities from the use of synthetic marijuana have shown up in media outlets throughout the U.S. Despite the federal ban enacted regarding several synthetic-related substances in 2012, both the production and distribution of these drugs appear to have increased.
The synthetic chemical compounds in K2 and similar substances are in oil or solid form. These chemical compounds are then sprayed onto a combination of dried herbs and spices before being distributed for purchase. Originally marketed as “potpourri” or “herbal incense” or synthetic marijuana can be used by smoking, inhaling, or ingesting. The high that people receive from using this drug starts immediately after the substance reaches the brain and usually lasts for 1-3 hours. This drug has commonly been marketed as a “safe” substitute for illicit drugs. But this is far from the truth.
Synthetic cannabinoids are part of a class of drugs known as new psychoactive substances (NPS). NPS are unregulated, potentially intoxicating substances that have become newly available on the drug market and are intended to induce the same effects as illicit drugs. Some of these substances may have been around for many years but have returned to the market in altered chemical forms or because of renewed demand.
Among the most concerning aspects of this substance is that no one knows what the chemical compounds themselves consist of. The formulations of the chemicals used in developing these compounds are not consistent. In other words, users never really know what toxic substances they are putting into their bodies when the drug is taken.
Moreover, each individual’s body can react differently to various intoxicating substances, meaning that one person could use the drug and merely feel high. In contrast, another person could use the drug and immediately enter a state of psychosis. Tragically, there have been reports of the drug leading to nearly instantaneous death.
Causes and Risk Factors
In part, due to the complex nature of synthetic drugs, more studying needs to be done to provide definitive results on the factors and causes that can lead an individual to begin abusing such substances and eventually become dependent and addicted. The most commonly cited reasons for any addictions are, however, described as the following:
Genetic – In general, addiction tends to have a profound genetic component, as substance abuse is recognized as running in families. Genetics can also play a role in developing an individual’s personality, driving them to begin abusing various drugs, synthetic marijuana included.
Physical – To date, research on the effects that drugs like Spice can produce in the human brain is still ongoing. However, experts have stated that the compounds that K2 and Spice products act on the same brain receptors that THC, the primary psychoactive element of marijuana, does. However, with synthetic marijuana, the composition of these compounds is believed to attach more strongly than cannabis itself to the brain’s cell receptors, resulting in more potent and possible and unpredictable effects.
Environmental – Environmental factors can also play a significant role in whether an individual will begin experimenting with substance abuse, including being raised in chaotic and dysfunctional home environments to start using psychoactive drugs or alcohol as a method of escaping the reality of the turbulent world that surrounds them. Persons who have experienced various forms of trauma or abuse may also be more likely to use substances to numb emotional pain and mental disturbances. Also, individuals exposed to drug use are at a greater risk of growing up abusing drugs themselves.
Risk factors include the following:
- Being male
- Being younger
- Exposure to chaotic or hectic home/work/school lives
- Lack of parental engagement or neglect
- Family history of substance abuse and addiction
- Personal history of mental health disorders
- Family history of mental health disorders
- Exposure to violence and crime
Signs and Symptoms
The various chemical compounds used in producing synthetic marijuana and how individuals exhibit symptoms of use vary greatly. The following are some examples of effects that have been self-reported in spice users:
Behavioral symptoms can include the following:
- Sudden, extreme episodes of hyperactivity
- Abrupt, intense bouts of lethargy
- Unprovoked and unwarranted angry outbursts
Physical symptoms can include the following:
- High or low blood pressure
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle spasms
Cognitive symptoms may include the following:
- Elevated mood
- Confusion and disorientation
- Altered perceptions
Because the drug is relatively new in its distribution and use, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been researching its potential long-term effects. However, the most devastating impact of synthetic marijuana is swift, premature death. Other results that are believed to result from chronic spice use potentially include the following:
- Familial discord
- Damage to relationships
- Permanent cognitive impairment
- Heart attack
- Suicidal ideations/behaviors
Withdrawal and Overdose Symptoms
If a person has been using synthetic marijuana for a period and abruptly discontinues use, they have the potential of experiencing withdrawal. This time has been reporting lasting for up to 72 hours and can include the following effects:
- Feelings of hunger
- Hot or cold flashes
- Flu-like symptoms
- Excessive anxiety
- Excessive lethargy
- Drug cravings
Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose can include the following:
With the many recent reports of synthetic marijuana vitals, it is essential to recognize that overdosing on these substances should be viewed as a medical emergency, and treatment should be sought immediately. K2 overdose effects can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Heart attack
Statistics on Abuse
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Spite is the second most commonly used illicit drug among high school seniors after cannabis. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that, in 2012, male high school seniors were twice as likely as their female counterparts to engage in synthetic marijuana use.
Despite the aforementioned federal prohibition, recent reports have been consistently rising, revealing the tragic results that this potent substance can have on the brains and bodies of users. Between January through June of 2014 alone, poison centers throughout the United States reported receiving almost 800 instances of synthetic marijuana exposures.
Additionally, in that same year, more than 100 individuals were treated for synthetic marijuana overdoses over a two-week period in Louisiana. Over five days in May of 2014, 120 people throughout Texas overdosed on the substance. Studies on national statistics regarding the use of the drug are still underway.
Getting Treatment for K2 or Spice Addiction
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers are specialized addiction treatment facilities that offer customized programs in partial hospitalization and residential formats. Services and therapies we provide are clinically proven to be beneficial for the recovery process and include the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- Peer group support meetings
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness education
- Relapse prevention
- Art and music therapy
- Aftercare planning
- Alumni activities