While outbreaks of synthetic cannabinoid-related emergency room (ER) visits across the country peaked in 2015, this drug is still highly popular today. From January to May 2015, the U.S. experienced a 229% increase in poisonings linked to synthetic cannabinoids, otherwise known as K2 Spice or fake weed.1 Despite the headlines, so many people are still unaware of what K2 is and its risks. Because of the growing prevalence of this drug problem, our Stuart rehab center is sharing some K2 Spice facts you should know about.
Synthetic marijuana is a common yet misleading term used to describe cannabinoid receptor agonists or synthetic cannabinoids. Unlike cannabis, synthetic cannabinoids get their name from their action on various cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
Synthetic cannabinoids are often referred to as synthetic weed or marijuana, but as we mentioned, these names are misleading. While many people believe synthetic marijuana acts like the real thing, users often find out that the opposite is true.
Below are some interesting facts about K2 Spice to help you better understand the dangers of this drug and where it came from.
#1: K2 Spice is not marijuana/cannabis
Although this drug is often referred to as fake weed, synthetic weed, and synthetic marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids should not be confused with marijuana or cannabis. K2 synthetic weed is an illegal synthetic cannabinoid that is made up of a collection of laboratory chemicals that interact with cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
These drugs are artificially designed in clandestine labs to mimic the effects of marijuana, which is why the drug is often considered a more powerful alternative to the real thing. The synthetic chemicals in K2 bind to the same cannabinoid receptors as delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis.
#2: Synthetic cannabinoids are usually stronger than marijuana
One reason Spice may be more potent than marijuana is that the chemical components of the drug bind more strongly to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and may interact with other receptors that marijuana does not. Common side effects of K2 include nausea, weakness, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and agitation.
Several news reports have also described Spice users in states of excited delirium where they are significantly agitated, tearing off their clothes, and sweating profusely. Severe side effects of Spice also include irregular heartbeat, heart attack, psychosis, respiratory depression, muscle weakness, hyperthermia, rhabdomyolysis, seizures, coma, and even death.
#3: K2 Spice ingredients are constantly changing
In 2012, the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act made 15 synthetic cannabinoids Schedule I drugs, meaning they currently have no accepted medical use but do have a high potential for abuse. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to add active Spice chemicals and their analogs to this list, making these substances illegal to sell, buy, or possess.
It’s difficult for law enforcement to track the different synthetic cannabinoids out there because the clandestine labs that make them are constantly changing their ingredients to avoid detection. MAB-CHMINACA is an example of some tweaks made to a previous synthetic cannabinoid, AB-CHMINACA.
Additionally, because synthetic cannabinoids are not marijuana, they won’t show up on a marijuana drug test, making them more difficult to detect. With rapidly changing components, even confirmation detection is limited because of the limitations in pure reference samples to work off of.
#4: K2 Spice wasn’t always an illicit drug
Research on synthetic cannabinoids started over 40 years ago to evaluate their potential medical uses.2 These synthetic cannabinoids weren’t designed to be abused like they are today but rather were a source of legitimate medical research.
Unfortunately, covert laboratories began illegally synthesizing some of the compounds and distributing them for illegal use. Early research examples that began showing up on the streets include JWH-018 and HU-210.
Illegal synthetic cannabinoids were first seen in Europe in 2004, and the first DEA lab detection of these products was conducted in 2008. From this, new research on these drugs emerged.
#5: K2 can be addicting
K2 Spice can be addicting for several reasons, including its increased binding ability and active metabolites, some of which bind 100 times tighter than THC.5,6 Cannabinoid receptors are mainly found in the central nervous system (CNS) and immune tissues.
While both CB1 and CB2 receptors are affected by synthetic cannabinoids, stimulants of CB1 cause a great psychoactive effect. However, because of the ever-changing chemical components of synthetic cannabinoids, addiction potential and long-term consequences aren’t always clear or the same for every user.
However, it’s believed that long-term users may be vulnerable to new-onset and relapse of psychosis and cognitive defects, including impaired attention span and memory. Withdrawal potential can also be unpredictable, and it’s recommended that individuals who are dependent on K2 Spice or have been using it for a long time seek medically-assisted detox.
#6: Young people aren’t the only ones who use K2 Spice
One of our lesser-known synthetic marijuana facts is that young people aren’t the only ones abusing it. In 2014, reports of K2 use among 12th graders fell steadily since 2012, and this overall decline of use among young people likely stemmed from increased awareness of the risks.
However, recent outbreaks represent that this perception of risk is dissipating, and the use of Spice is not limited to the younger crowd. In Mississippi, for example, the ages for K2-related ER visits ranged from 12 to 69 years.
Perceived safety and accessibility and the fact that K2 is not picked up on random work drug screenings have been cited as the most common reasons behind K2 Spice abuse. Additionally, stereotypes like believing one group uses a drug more than another can limit the availability of resources and addiction treatment for those in need.
Drugs like K2 Spice are not only dangerous on their own, but they also act as gateway drugs, encouraging the individual to use other drugs that might be more potent and addictive. If you or someone you care about has become addicted to drugs or alcohol, our Stuart rehabilitation center can help.
We offer medical detox and addiction treatment for all kinds of substances that offer clients a safe, comfortable, and medically-led environment where they can recover and regain their sobriety. Our facility also offers family counseling to help clients rebuild their broken relationships and develop strong support systems at home.