Facts about Spice (Synthetic Cannabinoids)

  • Spice is a dangerous drug that is also known as “fake weed” or synthetic marijuana.  The product is sold under a huge number of different names.  According to Spice Addiction Support (2017), there are at least 700 different street names for the product.
  • Some common names for Spice include Ace of Spades, K2, Amsterdam Gold, Black Magic, and so forth.  The list of names continues to grow, and the number of different chemicals used to make the product seem to be growing just as quickly.
  • The chemicals found in synthetic marijuana, are very different from the active compound in real marijuana. In addition, the combination of chemicals are not the same in each “brand name”.  The chemicals are often not even the same in different batches of the same name! So basically, if you choose to use the product, you really have no idea what you are inhaling.
  • The advertisers label their products as “natural”.  This is an outright lie.  The only thing natural about this drug is the plant leaves, or herbs, that the chemicals are sprayed on.  The synthetic chemicals, claimed to mimic the effects of marijuana, are typically sprayed onto cheap plants leaves or herbs.
  • The product indicates on the label “not for human consumption” as a feeble attempt to avoid attention from the DEA, and as a way to bypass FDA regulations that are put in place to keep products that humans consume safe.  The product, however, did get the attention of the Drug Enforcement agency, they have been working hard to identify the chemicals used in the products, and make them illegal.  However, the manufacturer’s are working just as hard to come up with new chemicals to use in their products, that have not yet been banned. The manufacturer’s continue to find loopholes in the law by changing the formulations of their product.
  • The product can also be purchased in liquid form that is often used in electronic vaporizers, such as electronic cigarettes. In this form it is called “liquid incense”.  The popularity of “vaping” these drugs (inhaling them in a vapor form), rather than smoking them is increasing. If you were to search online you will find hundreds of companies selling this “liquid incense”.  Remember you have no idea what you are inhaling.
  • These liquid synthetic cannabinoids are sold under a huge variety of different names.  This creates a new danger because sometimes people don’t even realize they are using synthetic cannabinoids.  This constant barrage of new names helps these vendors get around the increasing awareness of the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids.
  • In addition, the majority of e-liquids don’t list their ingredients on the packaging. There was a case in Michigan, in which a 19 year old boy reportedly overdosed using one of the popular e-liquids called “Darth Vapor”. The Sheriff in the county told the news agency, WZZM 13, that the e-liquid the young man was using in his electronic cigarette tested positive for synthetic cannabinoids. The Sheriff also indicated that this drug was becoming a growing problem in their county.  The Sheriff concluded with “We’ve had four confirmed overdoses or poisonings — whichever one you want to call it — of individuals…all teenagers. It is deadly; people need to understand these will kill you” (Brenzing, 2015).  There are similar cases reported all across the country.
  • Spice Addiction Support (2017), reports that “the number of people calling our Addiction hotline is up considerably this year” which doesn’t support the National Institute on Drug Abuse numbers that Spice use is declining. They also indicated an upward trend in people using the liquid synthetic marijuana versus smoking the leaves/herbs. They attribute this finding to a google search trend that clearly shows the number of people searching for liquid spice online has also increased, while searches for spice leaves and herbs has declined.  The manufacturers are focusing hard on online sales which have increased considerably since 2012 (Spice Addiction Support, 2017).
  • The DAWN Report, from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2012), states that toxicity due to synthetic marijuana resulted in 11,406 cases of emergency room visits in 2010. This number could actually be higher because the DAWN report only monitors cases involving people between the ages of 12 to 29. Alarmingly for parents, the highest number of visits reported involved patients between the ages of 12 to 17.
  • The University of Michigan (2011) issued a press release that stated, not only has the number of emergency room visits involving synthetic cannabinoids increased in the teen population, but a national survey also revealed that 11 percent of high school seniors reported using synthetic cannabinoids in 2011.  It is a cause for concern to say the least.
  • Complications from the use of this drug can include high blood pressure, increased heart rate, chest pains, nosebleeds, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, agitation, delusions, hallucinations, dependence, strokes, seizures, suicidal thoughts, and death (Ford, Tai, Fantegrossi, & Prather, 2017).
  • As if those complications are not scary enough the Trends in Pharmacological Sciences (2017), reports that there are serious long term adverse effects associated with using synthetic cannabinoids. For example, kidney damage, long term heart complications, psychosis, as well as withdrawal symptoms and addiction. They have also reported at least 20 known deaths linked to the use of these drugs.  In the same article Prather (2017), also cautions that “the public sees anything with the marijuana label as potentially safe, but these synthetic compounds are not marijuana, … you never know what they are, and they are not safe.”

 Prevention and Resources for Help

  • Parents please, if you have not already, discuss the dangers of these drugs with your children.  Because the synthetic cannabinoids are often found in convenience stores, and are available for purchase online, these drugs are often more accessible to young people than marijuana. In addition, many young people are not aware of the dangers, they often feel if you can buy it in a store “than it must be safe”.
  • If you or a loved one is addicted to spice, the Spice Addiction Support website offers a helpline at (888) 645 3912 and additional resources on their website.
  • Sometimes users of synthetic marijuana often have a problem with marijuana, in addition to the synthetic cannabis.  Joining a marijuana support group might be helpful for some people Marijuana Anonymous
  • Here is another list of Helplines and Crisis Hotlines



Brenzing, B. (2015). Teen overdoses on drug through e-cigarette.  Retrieved from http://www.wzzm13.com/news/local/lakeshore/teen-overdoses-on-drug-through-e-cigarette/120869691

Ford, B., Tai, S., Fantegrossi, W., & Prather, P. (2017). Synthetic pot: Not your grandfather’s marijuana. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences. (Feb, 2nd). Vol. 38Issue 3p.257 276. DOI: 10.1016/j.tips.2016.12.003

Spice Addiction Support. (2017). 700 street names for synthetic marijuana. Retrieved from https://spiceaddictionsupport.org/street-names-for-synthetic-marijuana/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA]. (2012).  The DAWN Report: Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits Involving Synthetic
Cannabinoids. Rockville:MD

University of Michigan News Service. (2011). Marijuana use continues to rise among U.S. teens, while alcohol use hits historic lows [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pressreleases/11drugpr.pdf