Synthetic weed – the ”Zombie drug.”
Users of this drug end up in an Emergency room.
K2 Spice is NOT marijuana
Spice is a mix of herbs (shredded plant material) and artificial chemicals with mind-altering effects. It is often called “synthetic marijuana” or “fake weed” because some of its chemicals are similar to marijuana. Still, its effects are sometimes very different from marijuana and frequently much more potent. Usually, the chemicals are sprayed onto plant materials to make them look like marijuana. Sold under many names, including K2, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, Black Mamba and others — and labelled “not for human consumption” — these products contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for their psychoactive (mind-altering) effects.
Fast facts on Spice:
- Nine kids collapsed in the North West of England after inhaling Spice.
- Sixty people died from Spice use in England in 2018, up from 24 the previous year.
- In British jails, a Spice epidemic is also blamed for a three-fold rise in “non-natural” inmate deaths.
- Fifty-six people in Illinois, USA, experienced severe bleeding after using Spice in April 2018. They were coughing up blood, had blood in their urine, and bleeding from their noses and gums. 2 of them died.
- Thirteen people from Pretoria West, including young adults and scholars, were hospitalised within days in October 2018 after smoking an alleged unknown substance called herbal blend, puff, blazing or crazy coconut.
A Spice user is much more likely to have serious adverse effects than a person smoking weed.
- Seizures and tremors
- Coma and unconsciousness
- Hallucinations and paranoia
- Numbness and tingling
- Very high blood pressure and heart rate – high enough to cause damage or danger
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Threatening behaviour and aggression
- Terrible headaches
- Inability to speak.
- A person can become so violently paranoid that he attacks other people around him.
Where did Spice come from?
Spice was launched in 2004 in the UK. By 2006, it had gained a considerable hold on the market, and the name Spice (along with another brand, K2) had become the generic term for all synthetic cannabis.
At first, people believed it was merely a mixture of harmless herbs that had a similar effect to marijuana. It was legally sold all over the world, primarily via the internet. It was attractively packaged in small colourful sachets and generally marketed as a herbal smoking tobacco substitute or as incense. The packaging had a kind of ’60s, summer of love, retro feel, which gave it an aura of harmlessness.
The product itself looked very much like herbal tobacco or even potpourri. Spice is frequently sold as potpourri, room deodoriser or incense, purporting to be an innocent product for scenting rooms and will usually have the warning, “Not for human consumption” on the packet. But this is simply a strategy to ward off potential legal threats. Through the grapevine, consumers know perfectly well that they are buying something intended to be smoked in a joint or a bong pipe.
What does it look like?
Traditional smoked Spice looks like herbal tobacco, or indeed marijuana. It’s made from dried plant material and chopped up herbs in a mixture of colours, including beige, cream, red and brown.
Brand names include Spike and K2, the best known, but today Spice comes under many other words, including Black Mamba, Diamond and Annihilation (hard words for air fresheners).
Today, the liquid form of synthetic marijuana is taking off. The popularity of e-cigarettes, vape pens and hookah pens – especially in high schools and universities – is likely the reason behind this shift. San Francisco Mayor London Breed has signed an ordinance that effectively bans e-cigarette sales within the city — the first of its kind in the United States on the 1st of July 2019.
How Is Spice used?
Most people smoke Spice by rolling it in papers (like marijuana or handmade tobacco cigarettes); sometimes, it is mixed with marijuana. Some Spice products are sold as “incense,” but they more closely resemble potpourri. Like marijuana, Spice is abused mainly by smoking. Sometimes Spice is mixed with marijuana or is prepared as a herbal infusion for drinking.
How Does Spice Affect the Brain?
Spice users report experiences similar to those produced by marijuana—elevated mood, relaxation, and altered perception—and in some cases, the effects are even more potent than those of marijuana. Some users report psychotic effects like extreme anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations. Synthetic marijuana is supposed to hit the cannabinoid receptors on brain cells to produce a high — but comparing spice to natural marijuana is like comparing a BB gun to an M-16.
So far, there have been no scientific studies of Spice’s effects on the human brain. Still, we know that the cannabinoid compounds found in Spice products act on the same cell receptors as THC, the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. However, some of the compounds found in Spic, bind more strongly to those receptors, which could lead to a much more powerful and unpredictable effect. Because the chemical composition of many products sold as Spice is unknown, it is likely that some varieties also contain substances that could cause dramatically different results than the user might expect.
What Are the Other Health Effects of Spice?
Spice abusers who have been taken to Poison Control Centres report symptoms that include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, and hallucinations. Spice can also raise blood pressure and cause a reduced blood supply to the heart (myocardial ischemia), and in a few cases,s it has been associated with heart attacks. Regular users may experience withdrawal and addiction symptoms.
We still do not know all the ways Spice may affect human health or how toxic it may be, but one public health concern is that there may be harmful heavy metal residues in Spice mixtures. Without further analyses, it is difficult to determine whether this concern is justified.
The manufacturers of synthetic cannabis work hard to stay one step ahead of the law and are continuously creating compounds to sidestep regulations. It’s a cat and mouse game between the creators of these dangerous substances and the legislators who seek to protect the unsuspecting public, especially young people who are easily conned into thinking that they have somehow found legal, safe weed.
As fast as some of the known synthetic cannabinoids are banned, the producer,s in a matter of weeks, seems able to create different versions that can slip through the legal net. It is creating huge problems as the authorities attempt to cut off the many heads of the hydra.
They include classic addiction symptoms: vomiting, extreme agitation and psychotic episode,s including hallucinations, even heart attacks.
Today, synthetic marijuana is widely believed to be more dangerous than the real thing. According to CBS News, more than 11,400 people attended the emergency room in 2010 due to the effects of Spice, while during 2011, Spice was mentioned by patients in the emergency room 28,531 times. Most users are young and ignorant of the adverse effects synthetic marijuana can have on them. Some of them have died from their first exposure to the drug.
The real problem with this dangerous substance is that it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s sold with a friendly, raw image, promising the user harmless herbs and a natural high.
Spice is an unpredictable, untested synthetic chemical that offers no labelling to see what you’re using, and the effects of use can be devastatingly harmful to many.
Withdrawing from spice is exceptionally uncomfortable. Common withdrawal symptoms include extreme vomiting and diarrhoea, inability to eat or drink, inability to focus, fatigue and severe insomnia.
Serious health issues reported include extreme dehydration, heart palpitations, renal failure and death.
Relapse seems common. Some people who quit years ago still crave the drug.
Storyboard of K2 user
”Early last week in Forrest General Hospital’s emergency room in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a male patient, about 30 or so years old, came in. He was agitated and hearing voices and was eventually admitted to the hospital’s psychiatric unit. There, things erupted.
The young man became paranoid, screaming that people were trying to break in and kill him. He started kicking at a set of the double door made of solid wood and broke them down. He reached another set of doors and broke the glass in those, too,” recalled Peter Kamp, a psychiatrist at Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services in Hattiesburg. Although his behaviour appeared to suggest otherwise, the young man had no history of psychiatric illness. Instead, he had taken “spice,” a synthetic drug. “It was all drug-related,” Kamp said.
References & Resources:
National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.