What Is Spice? The Facts On Synthetic Weed

It’s Not What You Think!

Many people have heard about Spice, also known as synthetic cannabis, fake pot, synthetic marijuana, legal weed, K2, herbal incense or potpourri.

They know exactly what it is and, maybe, have been tempted to try it. But, some people think it is a seasoning for your food like paprika or pepper and have no idea how it is affecting people all over the world.

So, what is Spice and is it a safe product to use?

Where Did It 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 simply a mixture of harmless herbs that had a similar effect to marijuana, and it was legally sold all over the world, especially via the internet. It was attractively packaged in small colorful sachets, and generally marketed as a herbal smoking tobacco substitute, or as incense. The packaging had a kind of 60’s, summer of love, retro feel, which gave it an aura of harmlessness.

The product itself looked very much like herbal tobacco or even potpourri. In fact, Spice is frequently sold as potpourri, room deodorizer 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. Consumers, through the grapevine, 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 colors including beige, cream red and brown.

spice gold open packet Cloud 9 synthetic marijuana droplets

Brand names include Spike and K2, the best known, but today Spice comes under many other name, including Black Mamba and Annihilation (hardly names 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.

It wasn’t long after the use of Spice became widespread that people started experiencing and reporting adverse side effects, including serious psychosis, and in 2008, the scientific community began to study what was actually contained in the synthetic cannabis mixtures.

What Is Spice Made Of?

The results of the scientific analyses were alarming.

Analysis showed that rather than being a simple mixture of harmless herbs, such as canavalia maritima, leonotis leonurus, zornia latifolia and others, the product had in fact been sprayed with artificial cannabinoids. These are not the “All Natural” ingredients listed on their packaging and on the sellers’ web sites. These chemicals are similar to natural cannabinoid found in marijuana, THC – tetrahydracannabinol.

Spice may contain one of many synthetic cannabinoids such as JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, AM-2201 UR-144, XLR-11, AKB4, cannabicyclohexanol and AB-CHMINACA, AB-PINACA or AB-FUBINACA. Even the prescription drug phenazapam has been found in some products.

In liquid forms of Spice, the variety of chemicals may be greater. Some suspect that a few brands of liquid Spice may contain traces of synthetic psychedelics such as 2C-P.

Synthetic cannabinoids are produced as an oil or a solid that can easily be sprayed on plant material – or any other low cost garbage which the manufacturers can get away with – to create a product that can be smoked and provide some kind of high.

Analysis by the German government in 2008 showed that some products contained almost none of the supposedly mild traditional herbs that were advertised as ingredients.

Around the world, governments have begun to pay attention to spice. One after another, countries find that these products, far from being innocent, in fact contained very dangerous artificial chemicals, which are responsible for producing the so called “natural” psychotropic effects.

Spice manufacturers continue to develop new varieties of chemicals in an attempt to get around new laws against synthetic cannabis.

Is Synthetic Marijuana Legal?

In most countries around the world, including the United States, synthetic cannabis has been made illegal. Spice use is also banned for U.S. Military personnel. There are, unfortunately, some countries around the world where the synthetic cannabinoids used to produce spice are still legal. This is creating a tangle of problems for the authorities in the U.S and is probably increasing the use of synthetic cannabis.

In May, 2013, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) took action and formally banned Synthetic Marijuana as a Class I drug, making distribution of legal weed a federal crime in the US. Unfortunately, the DEA action only covered a small number of chemicals, leaving pushers legal room to sell different chemicals in their place. Some states are taking further action to limit all forms of spice.

The manufacturers of synthetic cannabis work hard to stay one step ahead of the law and are continuously creating compounds to side step 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 producers in a matter of weeks seem able to create different versions which can slip through the legal net. This is creating huge problems as the authorities attempt to cut of the many heads of the hydra.

Today, it is estimated there are well over 100 synthetic cannabinoids sold on the street, with only about 40 of them currently listed in the US as Class I drugs.

The following 7-minute news report by CNN explains just how hard it is for law enforcement to get their hands around this fast-growing problem.

What Does It Do To You?

The effects on people using spice are many and varied, but mostly it’s bad news.

hallucination while on spice

They include classic symptoms of addiction: vomiting, extreme agitation and psychotic episodes including hallucinations, even heart attacks.

An expert in the field and the man who the chemical JWH is named after, Professor John W Huffman, is quoted as saying, “People who use it are idiots”.

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. Most users are young and ignorant to the negative 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 nice, natural image, promising the user harmless herbs and a natural high.

In fact, spice is an unpredictable, untested synthetic chemical that offers no labeling to see what you’re actually using, and the effects of use can be devastatingly harmful to many.

Is Synthetic Marijuana Addictive?

We get this question a lot. The short answer is, YES. Nothing like real marijuana.

Unfortunately, it’s taken the medical, scientific and legal community years to catch-up to the realities of this new class of drug. Today, there is general consensus among professionals and government organizations that synthetic marijuana is addictive. But the education of America is still underway.

During the period 2009-2012, the US experienced a steep rise in synthetic pot-related Poison Control Center calls, police calls and emergency room visits.

By 2012, synthetic weed had become the second-most abused drug in US high schools, according to the NIDA. The side effects and withdrawal symptoms were becoming clear to public officials, so many cities and states began to ask for legal action.

Today, most leading government and industry health organizations officially view synthetic cannabinoids as dangerous and addictive drugs. These include:

While most professionals agree on the addictive nature of spice, serious medical research into synthetic cannabis is still underway.

So, the next best way to learn about spice addiction is to listen to spice addicts and their loved ones tell their stories.

This is why we launched this site in 2013. Since then, our users have submitted hundreds of personal accounts of addiction to synthetic marijuana. The best 300 stories are available for you to read.  All of them are real, raw and unedited (except for fixing typos/formatting).

The user stories and discussions on this site paint a consistent and vivid picture of just how addictive spice can be, for example:

  • Detoxing from spice often takes a week or longer. You may have to take time off of work due to the withdrawal symptoms.
  • Withdrawing from spice is extremely uncomfortable. Common withdrawal symptoms include extreme vomiting and diarrhea, inability to eat or drink, inability to focus, fatigue and extreme 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.  Nothing like natural weed.
  • Some claim that ending an addiction to Spice can be as difficult as quitting crack cocaine or heroin. 

If you haven’t started using synthetic marijuana, then I hope this article steers you clear of it.

If you are using synthetic marijuana (smoking or vaping), then I hope you’ve learned that spice is addictive – and quitting spice can be hard. Please get professional help, if you need it.

Is Spice Addiction Ruining Your Life?

If you or a loved one are addicted to spice, call our hotline at (855)676-9691 to learn about the treatment options available to you.

What's Your Story?

If you have firsthand experience with synthetic marijuana and are willing to share your story, you can help others gain insights into their own struggle with this awful, misunderstood drug.

  • Cody

    The goverment doesnt understand! If marijuana was legal there would be less people buying and using this potentually deadly alternative.

  • http://goo.gl/1kZa Spud Z. Pecker

    Then why is it still being sold in Washington State?

  • rhyth

    I called the cops three times telling them what’s was going on. I don’t think they care.

  • aaron

    synthetic marijuana almost destroyed my life I wouldn’t eat wouldn’t sleep wouldn’t even take my kids out to do anything because his drug at such a control over my life I smoked it for over 4 years the withdraws from that are so horrible he just want to kill yourself don’t there is hope you will feel better and go back to normal but yoyou need the support of family and friends and no matter how bad you want to go back to it don’t I know easier said than done I’ve been off of it for over 2 weeks now and I’m beginning to go back to normal I would never go back to that demon

  • Noha

    I thought I was going to die I was vomiting and everything. I was with my friend and his other friend they told me it was some kind of strawberry marijuana so I smoked some and I kept feeling like I was part of a dream everything looked like a cartoon I eventually had to call my mom to get me.
    I told my friend I was pretty shore it was spice and he needed to get rid of it because I don’t want him to go through the same thing, it was truly scary.

    • Baelynn

      The same thing happened to me but I couldn’t even control my body and I slipped into a seizure.

  • kimberly miller

    Wow…this is unbelieveable. I just saw a report about Spice, had never heard of it before, and wanted to find out more. The stories on this site are heartbreaking…all my love and support truly goes out to individuals dealing with this awful addiction. Please know it’s not your fault, and in many cases, this is bigger than you- seek help. I’m assuming many hospitals will not know much about Spice, but I’m sure there are specialized rehab centers that could point you in the right direction. Call everywhere until you get advice.

    There’s so little info available about this substance- does anyone know exactly what part of the brain / receptors this affects? I’m seeing these AWFUL withdrawal stories, and so many tales of people being unable to withdraw cold turkey and having to go back to it because of the terrible side effects of being off it. This is making me so sad for all of you. I’m curious if something like small doses of suboxone (a medication used to almost totally kill the effects of heroin/pill/opiate withdrawal) could be effective for people trying to quit spice. This medication has incredible success rates of helping people get off opiates, as you don’t go through the withdrawal. MUCH higher chances of getting clean if this is used vs. cold turkey. After stabilizing you cut the dose of suboxone until you are totally off it. I’m very curious if this would help with spice WD’s. Call around to addiction specialists in your area and see if they can help. I’m thinking of you all! xo Kimberly