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What is Spice and What Does the Drug Do?

Clinically Reviewed by: Charee Marquez, LMFT

Understanding the complexities of Spice, a synthetic drug often marketed as a legal alternative to marijuana, is crucial for individuals navigating substance use and seeking recovery. Spice, also known as synthetic cannabis or K2, is a potent concoction of man-made chemicals designed to mimic the effects of THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. This synthetic substance is typically sprayed onto dried plant material, creating a product that resembles marijuana but can be significantly more potent and unpredictable. At California Prime Recovery, we recognize the importance of thoroughly examining Spice’s composition, effects, risks, and recovery pathways to offer comprehensive support and guidance to those struggling with addiction.

If you or a loved one is struggling with Spice addiction, reaching out for help is the first step towards recovery. Contact California Prime Recovery today at 866-208-2390 to speak with a member of our compassionate team and take the first step towards reclaiming a life free from substance abuse.

The Composition of Spice

What is Spice?

Spice, also known as synthetic cannabis, K2, or synthetic marijuana, typically comprises dried plant material infused with synthetic cannabinoids. These synthetic compounds are designed to mimic the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component of natural marijuana. However, unlike marijuana, which originates from the cannabis plant, Spice is a human-made substance with a highly variable and unpredictable chemical composition.

  • Synthetic Cannabinoids: Manufacturers create synthetic cannabinoids in laboratories, altering their chemical structures to interact with the same receptors in the brain as THC. Common synthetic cannabinoids found in Spice include JWH-018, JWH-073, and CP 47,497.
  • Plant Material: The synthetic cannabinoids are typically sprayed onto dried plant material, such as herbs or spices, to create a product resembling marijuana in appearance.

Types and Dosages

The formulations can vary widely, and new compounds are frequently developed.

Types: Different versions of synthetic cannabinoids may have distinct names or brands, often labeled as Spice, K2, or under various street names. The specific types of synthetic cannabinoids are not standardized, and the formulations may change over time. Manufacturers may alter the chemical structure to create new versions, making it difficult to keep track of specific types.

Dosages: Dosages of synthetic cannabinoids are not standardized, and there is no safe or recommended dose for these substances. The potency of synthetic cannabinoids can vary significantly between different products and batches. Due to the unpredictable nature of these drugs, even small amounts can result in severe and adverse reactions.

Brand Names and Street Names

Here are some examples of brand names and street names associated with synthetic cannabinoids:

Brand Names:

  1. Spice
  2. K2
  3. Black Mamba
  4. Scooby Snax
  5. Joker
  6. AK-47
  7. Cloud 9
  8. Yucatan Fire
  9. Black Magic
  10. Bombay Blue

Street Names:

  1. Spice
  2. K2
  3. Synthetic Marijuana
  4. Fake Weed
  5. Legal Weed
  6. Potpourri
  7. Herbal Incense
  8. Scooby Snax
  9. Bliss
  10. Zohai

Onset and Duration

The onset and duration of effects associated with synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as “Spice” or “K2,” can vary widely due to the diverse and constantly changing chemical compositions of these substances. Synthetic cannabinoids are designed to interact with the same receptors in the brain as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive compound in cannabis. However, the effects can be more unpredictable and potent than those of natural cannabis.


  • The onset of effects after using synthetic cannabinoids is typically rapid, often within minutes of consumption.
  • Users may experience an immediate alteration of consciousness, including feelings of euphoria, relaxation, or altered perception.


  • The duration of effects can vary depending on the specific synthetic cannabinoid compound, the dose, and individual factors.
  • In general, the effects of synthetic cannabinoids tend to be relatively short-lived, typically lasting for a shorter duration compared to natural cannabis.
  • The duration of effects may range from 30 minutes to a few hours.


Originally, individuals might have used synthetic cannabinoids with the misguided belief that they could provide an alternative to natural cannabis. However, the risks associated with synthetic cannabinoids, including unpredictable and potent effects, have led to numerous cases of adverse reactions and emergency room visits.

It’s important to note that synthetic cannabinoids are not approved for any medical or therapeutic purposes. The variability in chemical compositions, lack of quality control, and constant modifications make these substances extremely dangerous.

Legal Status

The legal status of synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as “Spice” or “K2,” varies by country and jurisdiction. Due to the constantly changing chemical compositions of these substances and their potential risks, regulatory agencies often struggle to keep up with new formulations.

In many places, specific synthetic cannabinoids have been categorized as controlled substances, making their production, sale, and possession illegal. However, manufacturers frequently modify the chemical structures of these substances to create new versions that may not be explicitly covered by existing laws.

Here are some general points regarding the legal status of synthetic cannabinoids:

  1. Controlled Substances: In numerous countries and states, specific synthetic cannabinoids have been classified as controlled substances. This means that the production, distribution, and possession of these substances are illegal.

  2. Analog Act: In some jurisdictions, the Analog Act or similar legislation allows authorities to treat certain structurally similar compounds as if they were explicitly listed controlled substances. This is intended to address the issue of continually changing chemical structures.

  3. Temporary Bans: Some regions have implemented temporary bans on specific synthetic cannabinoids while authorities study their effects and determine appropriate legal measures.

  4. Legal Loopholes: Manufacturers may attempt to exploit legal loopholes by creating new chemical formulations that are not explicitly listed as controlled substances.

It’s important to note that the legal status can change, and individuals should be aware of and comply with local laws and regulations regarding synthetic cannabinoids.

Side Effects

Here are some general short-term and long-term side effects associated with the use of synthetic cannabinoids:

Short-Term Side Effects:

  1. Euphoria: Users may initially experience feelings of euphoria or relaxation.
  2. Altered Perception: Distorted sensory perception, including changes in visual, auditory, and tactile sensations.
  3. Anxiety and Paranoia: Increased anxiety, paranoia, or panic attacks are common short-term effects.
  4. Nausea and Vomiting: Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, can occur.
  5. Hallucinations: Some users may experience hallucinations or delusional thinking.
  6. Increased Heart Rate: Synthetic cannabinoids can elevate heart rate and blood pressure.
  7. Dizziness and Coordination Issues: Users may experience dizziness, lack of coordination, and impaired motor skills.
  8. Agitation and Aggression: Agitation, aggression, or violent behavior may occur.

Long-Term Side Effects:

  1. Addiction and Dependence: While research is ongoing, some individuals may develop a psychological dependence on synthetic cannabinoids, leading to regular use.
  2. Cognitive Impairment: Long-term use may be associated with cognitive impairment, memory issues, and difficulty concentrating.
  3. Psychiatric Disorders: The use of synthetic cannabinoids has been linked to the development or exacerbation of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety disorders and psychotic disorders.
  4. Respiratory Issues: Smoking synthetic cannabinoids may contribute to respiratory issues over time.
  5. Cardiovascular Problems: Long-term use may increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks and strokes.
  6. Impaired Immune Function: Chronic use may affect immune function.

The Effects of Spice on the Body and Mind

Understanding the effects of Spice is essential for individuals to make informed decisions about substance use and recognize the potential risks associated with its consumption.

  • Psychoactive Effects: Like natural marijuana, Spice can induce a range of psychoactive effects, including euphoria, altered perception of time and space, relaxation, and increased sensory awareness.
  • Adverse Reactions: However, Spice is notorious for its unpredictable and often severe adverse reactions. These may include anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, panic attacks, psychosis, and violent behavior. The intensity and duration of these adverse effects can vary depending on factors such as the individual’s tolerance, the potency of the batch, and the presence of other substances.
  • Physical Health Risks: Chronic use of Spice can lead to various physical health risks, including respiratory issues such as lung irritation and bronchitis, cardiovascular problems such as increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, seizures, kidney damage, and even death.

Is Spice Addictive?

The potential for addiction to synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as “Spice” or “K2,” is still an area of ongoing research. While these substances were initially designed to mimic the effects of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive compound in natural cannabis, synthetic cannabinoids often have unpredictable and potent effects. The lack of consistent chemical compositions and the constant modification of these substances make it challenging to provide definitive conclusions about addiction potential.

However, there have been reports of individuals experiencing symptoms of dependence and withdrawal after using synthetic cannabinoids regularly. Dependence on a substance involves developing a tolerance to its effects and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when use is reduced or stopped.

Potential factors contributing to dependence on synthetic cannabinoids may include:

  1. Psychological Dependence: Users may develop a psychological reliance on the effects of synthetic cannabinoids for various reasons, such as managing stress, anxiety, or boredom.

  2. Tolerance: With regular use, some individuals may develop tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effects.

  3. Withdrawal Symptoms: Abruptly stopping the use of synthetic cannabinoids after prolonged use may lead to withdrawal-like symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety, insomnia, and changes in mood.

Can You Overdose on Spice?

Yes, it is possible to overdose on synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as “Spice” or “K2.” The unpredictable nature of these substances, coupled with variations in chemical compositions and potency, makes the risk of overdose particularly high. Synthetic cannabinoids can have profound effects on the central nervous system, and consuming large or unknown doses can lead to severe and potentially life-threatening consequences.

Overdose symptoms associated with synthetic cannabinoids may include:

  1. Severe Anxiety or Panic Attacks: Intense feelings of anxiety or panic that can be overwhelming.
  2. Hallucinations: Distorted perceptions, delusions, or hallucinations.
  3. Nausea and Vomiting: Gastrointestinal symptoms, which can be severe.
  4. Agitation and Aggression: Heightened states of agitation, aggression, or violent behavior.
  5. Seizures: In some cases, synthetic cannabinoids have been associated with seizures.
  6. Cardiovascular Issues: Increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and cardiovascular complications.
  7. Loss of Consciousness: Some individuals may experience loss of consciousness or become unresponsive.

It’s important to note that the specific symptoms can vary based on individual factors, the specific synthetic cannabinoid compound, and the dosage consumed. Due to the potential for severe and unpredictable reactions, the use of synthetic cannabinoids is strongly discouraged.

Understanding the Dangers

  • Potency: One of the most significant dangers of Spice lies in its potency. Synthetic cannabinoids present in Spice can be significantly more potent than natural THC, leading to a higher risk of overdose and adverse reactions, particularly among inexperienced or unsuspecting users.
  • Unknown Ingredients: Another danger of Spice stems from the uncertainty surrounding its ingredients. Manufacturers frequently alter the chemical composition of Spice to evade legal restrictions, leading to variations in potency and effects. Users often have no knowledge of the specific synthetic cannabinoids or other chemicals present in the product they are consuming, increasing the risk of unexpected and potentially harmful outcomes.
  • Legal Status: Despite being marketed as a legal alternative to marijuana, many forms of Spice are illegal due to the presence of synthetic cannabinoids. However, the ever-evolving nature of synthetic drug production makes it challenging for lawmakers to keep pace with new formulations, leading to regulatory loopholes and inconsistencies in enforcement.

Seeking Help and Recovery

For individuals struggling with Spice addiction, seeking professional help and support is paramount for recovery and long-term well-being. At California Prime Recovery, we offer a comprehensive range of evidence-based treatment modalities and support services tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual.

How We Can Help:

  • Medical Detoxification: Our medically supervised detox program provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals to withdraw from Spice and other substances while managing withdrawal symptoms and ensuring their physical and psychological well-being.
  • Individualized Treatment Plans: We believe in personalized care and tailor treatment plans to address the specific needs, goals, and challenges of each client. Our multidisciplinary team collaborates to develop comprehensive and holistic approaches to recovery.
  • Therapeutic Interventions: Through individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and other therapeutic modalities, clients explore the underlying issues contributing to their addiction, learn healthy coping strategies, and develop essential life skills for sustained recovery.
  • Dual Diagnosis Treatment: We specialize in treating co-occurring mental health disorders alongside substance abuse to address the complex interplay between addiction and underlying psychological issues.
  • Holistic Therapies: In addition to traditional therapeutic approaches, we offer a variety of holistic therapies and wellness activities, such as yoga, meditation, art therapy, mindfulness practices, and outdoor recreational activities, to promote overall healing and well-being.
  • Aftercare Support: Our support extends beyond the completion of treatment. We provide comprehensive aftercare planning, alumni programs, and ongoing support to help clients maintain their sobriety, navigate life’s challenges, and build fulfilling, substance-free lives.

Seeking Treatment? We Can Help!

Spice poses significant risks to individuals’ health, well-being, and overall quality of life. Understanding the complexities of this synthetic drug, including its composition, effects, dangers, and recovery pathways, is crucial for making informed decisions about substance use and seeking help when needed.

At California Prime Recovery, as an in-network provider we work with most insurance plans, such as:

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health challenges or substance abuse, reach out to California Prime Recovery today. Our team of compassionate professionals is here to support your journey towards lasting well-being. Give us a call at 866-208-2390

Also, check out our blogs posted weekly on Medium.


While some forms of Spice may be labeled as “legal highs,” many contain illegal synthetic cannabinoids. Possession and distribution of these substances are punishable by law.

Yes, Spice can cause overdose, leading to severe medical complications or even death, especially due to its unpredictable potency and composition.

Yes, Spice is highly addictive, with users often experiencing physical and psychological dependence requiring professional treatment for recovery.

Signs of Spice addiction may include changes in behavior, mood swings, neglecting responsibilities, financial problems, and withdrawal symptoms when not using.

The detection window for Spice can vary depending on factors such as frequency of use, metabolism, and the type of drug test conducted, but it can typically be detected in urine for up to several days.

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