Spice/K2: Drug Facts for Teens


What Is Spice?

Spice is a mix of herbs (shredded plant material) and laboratory-made chemicals with mind-altering effects. It is often called “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 marijuana, and often much stronger. Usually the chemicals are sprayed 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 chemicals  found in Spice illegal. However, the people who make these products try to avoid these laws by using different chemicals in their mixtures.

Spice is most often labeled “not for human consumption” and disguised as incense. Sellers of the drug try to lead people to believe it is “natural” and therefore harmless, but it is neither. In fact, the actual effects of spice can be unpredictable and, in some cases, severe or cause death.

How Spice is Used

Most people smoke Spice by rolling it in papers (like with marijuana or handmade tobacco cigarettes); sometimes, it is mixed with marijuana. Some people also make it as an herbal tea for drinking. Others buy Spice products as liquids to use in e-cigarettes.

What happens to your brain when you use Spice?

Spice has only been around a few years, and research is only just beginning to measure how it affects the brain. What is known is that the chemicals found in Spice attach to the same nerve cell receptors as THC, the main mind-altering ingredient in marijuana. Some of the chemicals in Spice, however, attach to those receptors more strongly than THC, which could lead to much stronger effects. The resulting health effects can be unpredictable and dangerous. Additionally, there are many chemicals that remain unidentified in products sold as Spice and it is therefore not clear how they may affect the user. It is important to remember that chemicals are often being changed as the makers of Spice often alter them to avoid drug laws, which have to target certain chemicals.

Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs.

What happens to your body when you use Spice?

Short-Term Effects

People who use synthetic cannabinoid report some effects similar to those produced by marijuana:

  • relaxation
  • elevated mood
  • altered perception (changes in awareness of objects and conditions)
  • psychosis (feeling detached from reality)

People who have had bad reactions to Spice report symptoms like:

  • fast heart rate
  • throwing up
  • extreme anxiety or nervousness
  • hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • feeling confused
  • violent behavior
  • suicidal thoughts

In a few cases, it has been linked with heart attacks and death.

We still do not know all the ways Spice may affect a person’s health or how toxic it may be, but it is possible that there may be harmful heavy metal residues in Spice mixtures.

Can you overdose or die if you use Spice?

Yes. Spice use has been linked to a rising number of emergency department visits and to some deaths. Learn more about drug overdoses in youth.

How many teens use Spice?

Twelfth graders were first asked about past-year use of Spice (synthetic marijuana) in 2011. Annual use was 11 percent, making synthetic marijuana the second most widely used class of illicit drug after marijuana among 12th graders. However, starting in 2013, use of synthetic marijuana has continually dropped. In 2019, about 3 percent of teens in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades report that they used Spice in the past year.

What should I do if someone I know needs help?

If you, or a friend, are in crisis and need to speak with someone now:

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don’t just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by)

If you want to help a friend, you can:

  • Share resources from this site, including this page.
  • Point your friend to NIDA’s Step by Step Guide for Teens and Young Adults.
  • Encourage your friend to speak with a trusted adult.
  • If a friend is using drugs, you might have to step away from the friendship for a while. It is important to protect your own mental health and not put yourself in situations where drugs are being used.For more information on how to help a friend or loved one, visit our Have a Drug Problem, Need Help? page.

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