The first hits of spice may feel quite similar to pot. Many users compare spice to marijuana—at least that’s the sales pitch. However, users often find themselves living in more of a PCP world after using it for a while. People who smoke the spice mini-joints find themselves dependent on herbs that contain some natural chemicals that are somewhat similar to the THC in marijuana. But, producers often lace this ostensibly “safer” marijuana alternative with unsafe substances of abuse.
If anyone argues, “It’s just an herb.” Or, they make claims that it’s safe, ask them to go to a homeless shelter in any medium or large American city. Quiz the residents and staff about how many people are using spice. Ask if most of those users are addicted. Find out how much cheaper it is than other drugs. Ask the police in their area to tell them their observations of individual under the influence of the drug. Ask psychiatrists and drug rehab centers about their experiences with people dependent upon spice. They’ll find that there are way too many spice-addicted people. They’ll learn that it’s becoming a drug of choice among the homeless because it usually costs a fraction of cocaine, heroin, meth or marijuana. They’ll learn that too many of its addicts must overcome psychosis before they ever can consider detox.
What is Spice?
Spice is a mix of herbs (shredded plant material) and human-made chemicals with mind-altering effects. It is often called k2, synthetic marijuana, or fake weed because some of the chemicals in it are similar to ones in marijuana, but its effects are sometimes very different from pot, and frequently much stronger. Spice is classified as a synthetic cannabinoid, while marijuana is a natural cannabinoid. Some spice manufacturers and processors spray chemicals onto plant materials to make them look like marijuana.
Because the chemicals used in spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration has made many of the active compounds most frequently found in Spice illegal. However, the people who make these products try to avoid these laws by using different chemicals in their mixtures.
Scientists initially produced synthetic cannabinoids similar to spice, so they could study cannabinoid receptor in the brain. But, the formulations jumped from legal and carefully controlled labs into the hands of rogue chemists in Russia, China, and other countries. These synthetic cannabinoids started being shipped to Europe more than a decade ago, where they were abused. In 2008 spice reached the United States. This substance so often abused by the homeless even reached the vaunted National Football League and contributed to some high-profile player arrests.
Chandler Jones, currently a defensive end with the Arizona Cardinals, was using spice in 2016 when it landed him in a hospital. He reportedly had a “bad reaction” to synthetic marijuana that led to his hospitalization in January 2016. Other players who’ve used spice include Robert Nkemdiche who also plays for the Arizona Cardinals. Derrick Coleman of the Seattle Seahawks, and Kellen Winslow.
Spice and its Side Effects
For the last few years, emergency room visits for spice side-effects have skyrocketed in the United States. People who have had bad reactions to Spice report symptoms such as:
- Rapid heart rate
- Anxiety and excessive nervousness
- Violent behavior
- Suicide threats or attempts
When people use spice, it temporarily manipulates blood flow, so less of the body’s most vital fluid circulates to their hearts. It also bumps up their blood pressure. In a few cases, it has been linked with heart attacks and death. Individuals who abuse spice end up riding the roller coaster of addiction and withdrawal symptoms. Doctors and medical researchers continue to study spice because there is still so much to learn about its toxicity and how it affects mental and physical health. With so many different versions of spice, the medical world may never know as much as they do about other drugs.
Since spices such as no substance, the long-term consequences of using it are still mostly unknown. Some early medical data indicates that severe bleeding, seizures, kidney damage and the heart condition myocardial ischemia are starting to show up more often in people with a history of spice use. And, when a substance damages both the heart and kidneys, the odds of it doing additional h to the brain, liver, blood vessels and other body systems are very high.
Unlike marijuana, discontinuing the synthetic cannabinoid spice causes withdrawal symptoms. Detoxing from spice may be challenging, with symptoms including:
- Drug cravings
- Delusions, hallucinations and other psychotic manifestations
- Suicidal urges
Drug rehab centers in all 50 states are seeing more and more patients who need full detoxification for this drug that many started taking because they thought it would be even safer than pot.
How it Works
The chemicals in spice attach to cannabinoid receptors, much like THC, the primary active ingredient in marijuana, binds to those same receptors. But spice is more potent, and the effects are difficult to anticipate. There are a lot of bad trips with spice. Again, the combinations of ingredients change regularly, leading to ever unpredictable effects and potency for each hit. And yet, because spice has an herbal base, it is often hard for law enforcement and the courts to take measures to reduce the abuse of spice. In some cases, retailers still package it like a legitimate product and sell it over the counter as a dietary supplement or herb.
The Spice High
It’s potent and cheap. That’s why so many people use it. You’ll find plenty of spice users amongst the downtrodden in our society. Naturally, that makes it appealing to vulnerable sections of society, like the homeless. Many users report that spice accelerates time. Others emphasize it’s high and euphoria. But, many individuals loathe that psychedelic experiences and mental blackouts.
Many employer drug screenings do not detect spice. So, some users consider it an alternative to marijuana or other drugs, which they can use to avoid failing a drug screening at work. But the tests are getting better. Most law enforcement drug screenings now detect spice as we the tests in many hospitals, clinics and drug rehab centers.