Spice, K2, Fake Weed – Synthetic Cannabinoids

Spice, used interchangeably with Synthetic Cannabis or Synthetic Marijuana, refers to man-made substances that mimic the THC-effects of marijuana, but may or may not actually contain THC or cannabinoids. These products are often commercially produced and sold under brand names such as Spice, Kronic, Blue Lotus, Northern Lights, Mojo, K2, Bliss, Scooby Snax, Cowboy Kush, Godfather, Lightening Red, Lightening Gold. More general terms include aphrodisiac tea, herbal incense, and potpourri.

The synthetic cannabinoid – which is usually in solid or oil form – is added to a mixture of herbs to make it resemble natural cannabis more closely. The drug is usually consumed in a similar way to cannabis, by bong smoked in a joint, or pipe.

Because these substances are marketed as “not intended for human consumption,” they are not subject to regulation. As a result, Spice is often comprised of chemicals and additives that have serious health risks for humans.

Weaker effects of taking the drug can include feeling happiness, euphoria, and relaxation. Perception may change and hallucinations are more likely than with regular marijuana. Paranoia, psychosis, panic attacks and muscle weakness can also occur.

Stronger strains of the substance can have an intense effect that, in some cases, renders the user paralysed for a number of hours. Users have also been known to suffer from fits and seizures after taking the drug.

The synthetic cannabinoid – which is usually in solid or oil form – is added to a mixture of herbs to make it resemble natural cannabis more closely. The drug is usually consumed in a similar way to cannabis, by bong smoked in a joint, or pipe.

Health Risks of Taking Spice

Experts say that synthetic cannabis can be up to 100 times stronger than natural cannabis. For some people, taking spice can lead to a breakdown in their relationships and normal life.

Spice is highly addictive, often hooking users after their first try. The number of people under the age of 18 accessing addiction treatment for legal highs rose by 176% between 2015 and 2016 in England.

A researcher who carried out a study on spice use in homeless communities in Manchester found that the drug was described as equally addictive as heroin, if not more so. Participants in the study reported that their spice addiction had taken the place of their heroin or methadone addiction.

Some of the immediate effects of taking Spice are behaviour disturbance with paranoia and violence. Users can become aggressive and inflict damage on both themselves and others. Police services and A&E departments have noted an increase in first-hand descriptions of the violence, coma or seizures that NSP’s can cause.

The drug can have immediate, devastating effects. In one case, a young girl collapsed and had to be put into a medically induced coma after taking the drug at a party. NPS’s as a whole were responsible for the deaths of 144 people in the UK in 2014.

Spice can cause an increased heart rate and blood pressure, which in turn leads to chest pains, or even a heart attack. Psychotic episodes triggered by the drug can last up to several weeks.

Additionally, research has pointed to a link between taking synthetic cannabis and acute kidney dysfunction. As the drug has a similar chemical structure to serotonin, excessive use of the drug can lead to serotonin syndrome (overstimulation of the serotonin system), leading to rapid heart rate, convulsion, fever, organ failure and death.

The drug is even more dangerous when combined with alcohol, and is more likely to result in death.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Spice

Spice withdrawal may be similar to cannabis withdrawal. But since these substances often contain little or no THC, in addition to large concentrations of unknown, toxic chemicals, side effects may be significantly more severe and longer lasting. Insomnia, panic, agitation, irritability, mood swings, paranoia, and cardiac disturbance are all common withdrawal symptoms of synthetic downer abuse.

Spice Addiction Treatment

Most users of Spice have also been regular users of other substances such as cannabis or amphetamines and are often addicted to more than one drug. At Castle Craig, our residential drug detox and treatment programme deals with all types of drug abuse – this covers Spice and other New Psychoactive Substances as well as prescription drug addiction and other illicit drug addiction. We do not have a specific programme for those using Spice however incoming patients are assessed by our Consultant Psychiatrist on a case-by-case basis and treatment programmes are personalised to the specific needs of the individual in a caring, supportive environment.

Spice Detox

When a patient arrives at Castle Craig they have made a decision to go through a structured treatment programme, starting with drug detox in an informed, caring, supportive environment, perhaps with sedation at night for the first few nights.

This prepares them both physically and psychologically to engage with their addiction treatment and begin their recovery from Spice addiction. Withdrawal symptoms from Spice can reportedly include extreme stomach pain and frequent vomiting, alongside weight loss, insomnia, and intense cravings for the drug. At Castle Craig, the patient’s safety and comfort are our top priority. We continuously monitor our patients’ physical and mental states during detox and their detox regime is updated in response to their condition. Patients detoxing from spice may temporarily be given medication to ease their withdrawal symptoms.

Residential Spice Rehab Treatment

Our 4-6 week abstinence-based residential rehab programme at Castle Craig aims to improve the patient’s psychological health. It helps them to gain a better understanding of their drug addiction, the reasons behind it and how to change their behaviour. Our clinically proven rehab programme is tailored to each individual based on their pattern of drug use and current circumstances. The patient experiences an intensive programme of specialised addictive therapies including individual therapy, group therapy, CBT, trauma therapy, grief therapy, anxiety management and mood management.

We take a holistic approach to care because we value spiritual well-being in addition to psychological health. At Smarmore Castle, we offer complementary therapies including hyperbaric oxygen therapy, equine therapy, drumming therapy, mindfulness meditation, and aquatherapy. Our programme also improves the patient’s physical health with a combination of exercise and healthy, balanced meals.

Secondary Care

If a patient has come from an unstable social setting and needs an extended period of care and therapy at Castle Craig, they will move on to our Extended Care Unit, where they may stay from 6 weeks to 6 months if necessary, benefitting from the therapeutic community.

Discharge and Relapse Prevention

When the patient is ready to leave treatment, we work with them to devise a personalised, two year continuing care plan. This plan guides their recovery process during this period and helps to prevent relapse. It includes engaging with peer support groups on re-entering their daily life, in order to consolidate their recovery in a normal environment.

Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | October 7, 2019