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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: The actual effects can be unpredictable and, in some cases, severe or cause death. We review more about Spice and how to detox from synthetic cannibinoids, including medical protocols and where to find help.

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 10 minutes

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

What Is Spice?

Spice is just one name of the many trade names or brands for synthetic designer drugs that are intended to mimic THC, the main active ingredient of marijuana. It’s typically a mix of herbs (shredded plant material) and manmade chemicals with mind-altering effects. These chemicals are called cannabinoids because they are similar to chemicals found in the marijuana plant. Because of this similarity, synthetic cannabinoids are sometimes misleadingly called “synthetic marijuana” or “fake weed”.

Synthetic cannibinoids found in Spice are illegal. These substances have no accepted medical use in the United States and have been reported to produce adverse health effects. Currently, 26 substances are specifically listed as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act either through legislation or regulatory action.

In fact, Spice is not safe and may affect the brain much more powerfully than marijuana; the actual effects can be unpredictable and, in some cases, more dangerous or even life-threatening. Still, Spice is most often labeled “Not for Human Consumption” and disguised as incense. Sellers of the drug try to lead people to believe they are “natural” and therefore harmless, but they are neither.

How Spice is Made

Synthetic cannabinoids are part of a group of drugs called “new psychoactive substances”. They are unregulated mind-altering substances that have become newly available on the market and are intended to produce the same effects as illegal drugs. Some of these substances may have been around for years but have reentered the market in altered chemical forms, or due to renewed popularity.

Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made mind-altering chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked. They are made in labs all over the world, and are constantly evolving. Synthetic cannabinoids were initially developed for research purposes. As such, the methods for synthesizing the compounds are published in scientific literature. Today, these formulas are used by clandestine chemists to produce compounds for commercial synthetic cannabinoids products.

Once synthesized, synthetic cannabinoids are dissolved in ethanol or acetone and sprayed on plant material, which is then sold in packets as incense, herbal blends, or potpourri, and usually labeled with a disclaimer indicating that the contents are not for human consumption.

Additionally, there are many chemicals that remain unidentified in products sold as Spice and it is therefore not clear how they may affect the user. Moreover, these chemicals are often being changed as the makers of Spice alter them to avoid the products being illegal.

What Happens To Your Brain?

Spice has only been around a few years, and research is only just beginning to measure how it affects the brain. So far, there have been few scientific studies of the effects of synthetic cannabinoids on the human brain, but researchers do know that some of them bind more strongly than marijuana to the cell receptors affected by THC, and can produce much stronger effects. The resulting health effects can be unpredictable and dangerous.

Because the chemical composition of many synthetic cannabinoid products is unknown and may change from batch to batch, these products are likely to contain substances that cause dramatically different effects than the user might expect.

The mental health consequences can be even more severe. There are reports of extreme depression with suicidal thoughts that can endanger the safety of the person abusing synthetic cannabinoids. In other recent cases, some users overdoses resemble opioid overdoses, including lethargy and suppression of breathing; in other cases they have exhibited agitated and violent behavior.

What Happens To Your Body?

We still do not know all the ways Spice may affect a person’s health or how toxic it may be, but it is possible that there may be harmful heavy metal residues in Spice mixtures. If you or someone you love experience these symptoms, seek for help right away, before is too late.

As use increases in frequency and duration, there are greater risks of ill effects of synthetic marijuana abuse including:

  • Death.
  • Heart attacks.
  • Injuries due to erratic or violent behaviors.
  • Kidney damage.
  • Onset or exacerbation of mental health disorders.
  • Respiratory issues similar to those seen in tobacco smokers.
  • Seizures.

Dependence

Your body adjusts to Spice over time. In fact, you can become physically dependent on it. Detox is similar to symptoms experienced during cannabis withdrawal, including lack of appetite, irritability, and sleep disruptions.

People who have used synthetic cannabinoids for long periods and abruptly stop have reported withdrawal-like symptoms, suggesting that the substances are addictive. Commonly reported symptoms from some heavy users of synthetic cannabinoids include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Trouble sleeping

Some people who suddenly stop using synthetic cannabinoids after frequent use have reported severe symptoms such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Palpitations
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures

The severity of these withdrawal-like symptoms may be related to how much and how long someone has used synthetic cannabinoids. Spice withdrawal symptoms can be quite unpleasant and for some, even dangerous. If you stop using Spice, you may experience following symptoms:

  • Cravings.
  • Depression.
  • Diarrea.
  • Extreme sweating.
  • Insomnia.
  • Nausea.
  • Paranoia.
  • Psychosis.
  • Seizures.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Vomiting.

Detox Duration

Withdrawal has been reported to occur shortly after smoking, with one person reporting that she would wake up every 45 min throughout the night to smoke in order to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Still, the amount of time it takes to detox from Spice varies from person to person. In fact, the time between synthetic cannabinoid use, symptom onset, and the time to recovery depends on several factors, such as the specific synthetic cannabinoid(s) used, the route of exposure (inhalation, ingestion), and the amount consumed.

Withdrawal symptoms may not begin for 1-3 days after last use when smoking reali marijuana, while synthetic marijuana withdrawal symptoms may begin just 15 minutes after last use.

Timeline

With many types of substances available and limited research in this area, exact duration and course of synthetic marijuana detoxes are currently unknown.

Dangers

Death is a rare but serious risk associated with the use of Spice. Since the chemicals found in the synthetic cannabinoid vary from one package to another, and the potency can differ even within a package, the effects are unpredictable, turning it into a dangerous Pandora’s Box.

Can You Do It Yourself?

No. We don´t recommend trying to detox from Spice on your own, it´s not safe. Detox, done in a safe and controlled way, is a great way to manage withdrawal, transition into addiction treatment, and achieve long-term abstinence.

Where To Detox?

Detox clinics share the same goal of helping you end physical dependence in a safe way. However, programs will differ in their range of services, intensity of services, and treatment setting.

Broader substance abuse rehabilitation occurs in either an inpatient or outpatient care setting; your decision to begin treatment at one or the other may depend on how severe your use is.

Inpatient/residential treatment require that the person lives at the center during treatment. These are more intense services and provide 24-hour staffing and care. Some inpatient/ residential options last just a few weeks while others are a year in length.

Outpatient treatment is reserved for people with lower needs. These programs allow you to live at home, continue working, and care for other responsibilities while attending treatment during the day. Outpatient treatment varies with some programs involving 30 hours per week (partial hospitalization programs), 9 hours per week (intensive outpatient programs), and 1-2 hours per week (standard outpatient).

Medications That Can Help

The FDA still does not approve any medication to treat dependence on synthetic cannibinoids. The medications that can help are only to treat the effects and symptoms of abstinence that Spice abuse leads to. Some possible treatments follow:
  • Symptom management for acute intoxication is frequently treated with supportive care and intravenous fluids to treat electrolyte and fluid disturbances.
  • Although not always effective, antiemetics have been administered for vomiting during Spice detox.
  • Chest pain has been reported in adolescents abusing Spice. Treatment options have included aspirin, nitroglycerin and benzodiazepines.
  • Naltrexone has been prescribed to one person and appeared to reduce Spice cravings associated with detoxification.
  • People who present with profuse sweating, tremors, palpitations, insomnia, headache, depression, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting; associated with intoxication or withdrawal are generally administered benzodiazepines as a first-line treatment. Quetiapine was effective in treating withdrawal symptoms in persons who failed to respond to benzodiazepines
  • Neuroleptics are also administered for acute psychosis and agitation and mania with psychotic symptoms.

Some persons are polysubstance users and have co-occurring psychiatric disorders. As such, symptoms that appear to be related to Spice withdrawal may in fact be due to underlying issues exacerbated by synthetic cannabinoid use and not necessarily a direct reflection of Spice withdrawal.

Facts & Statistics About Spice

FACT #1: Spice is a 21st Century Drug. It became available in the US around 2004 via internet and many “head shops.” Synthetic cannabinoids are the second-most widely used illicit drug in high school seniors in the United States. [1]

FACT #2: Teens are using it. In a 2012 national survey of 8th, 10th and 12th grade students, 4.4% of the 8th graders, 8.8% of the 10th graders and 11.3% of the 12th graders admitted using synthetic marijuana. The rise in use of Spice among younger persons is particularly alarming. [1]

A nationally representative sample of nearly 12000 high school seniors revealed 10% of students reported using synthetic cannabinoids in the previous 12 months, and 3.2% reported “frequent use” (at least 6 times). Females were significantly less likely than males to use Spice in this study. [1]

The odds of using Spice was significantly increased if the teenagers endorsed a history of using alcohol, cannabis, or cigarettes and was directly related to the number of evenings per week the teenagers went out “for fun”. [1]

In a study of college students, eight to 14% of participants in the study reported the use of synthetic cannabinoids, starting at an average age of 18 years. The attractiveness of these synthetic cannabinoids for young people include the lack of readily available methods of detection, the perception that these drugs are legal or “harmless,” and availability in shops that sell paraphernalia for marijuana and tobacco users (head shops), in gas stations or convenience stores, or sometimes over the internet. Studies have demonstrated that the motivation for use of these products were not only to “get high” but also to avoid detection. [1]

FACT #3: Spice is causing extremely serious side effects. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), there were 13 calls to poison centers in 2009 regarding exposure to synthetic cannabinoids, but in 2010 there were 2,915 documented calls. As of May 31, 2011, there were already 2,476 calls to poison centers regarding synthetic cannabinoid exposure. The widespread availability of the drug is one of the most concerning aspects in this new drug of abuse. In 2011, Spice was mentioned by persons in the emergency room 28,531 times. This is a dramatic increase over the 11,406 mentions in 2010.

FACT #4: Distributors mask the dangers of Spice through lies in labeling. Spice distributors often market Spice as natural herbs or harmless incense using colorful, attractive packaging and the allure of a safe experience. Spice also attracts teens because it is not easily detectable in urine and blood samples. This encourages both traditional marijuana users as well as those with no prior experience with illegal substances.

Do You Have Questions?

Do you have questions about Spice detox? Would you like to know more? Please ask any questions you may have here in the comments section and we will get back to you personally and promptly.
Reference Sources:
[1] Synthetic cannabinoids 2015: An update for pediatricians in clinical practice
Additional Reference Sources:
CDC: Synthetic cannabinoids: An overview for healthcare providers
DEA: K2-Spice
DEA: Spice-K2 fact sheet
NCBI: Adverse effects of synthetic cannabinoids: Management of acute toxicity and withdrawal
NIDA: Synthetic cannabinoids
NIDA FOR TEENS: Spice
TOXNET: Cannabicyclohexanol

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