Spice, Fake Weed, K2 - The Dangers of Designer Drugs And Synthetic Cannabinoids Parents Need to Understand
You may have heard this line before if you’re the parent of a teen or young adult who’s experimenting with drugs, “it’s natural, it’s from a plant - don’t freak out - you’re overreacting!” If you’ve heard this from your son or daughter recently, you might be having a conversation about something called “Spice.”
Spice has many different street names like Bliss, Black Mamba, Blaze, Bombay Blue, Fake Weed, Legal Weed, Genie, Zohai, Red X, Dawn Scooby Skunk, Snax. Then there are the different brands everywhere like, K2, Spice, Joker, Scooby Snax, Black Mamba, Kush, and Kronic
What is Spice?
Spice is a synthetic cannabinoid and is considered a “designer drug.” What’s that? Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made mind-altering chemicals that are sprayed on dried, shredded plant material and then smoked, vaporized, and inhaled in e-cigarettes or vape pens, or brewed as a tea. It often looks like potpourri and is sometimes called herbal or liquid incense or fake weed. These substances act on the same brain cell receptors as THC which is the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana.1
Is Spice legal?
Because the chemicals used in Spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the DEA has made many of the active chemicals found in these products illegal. The people who develop Spice products avoid these laws by modifying specific chemicals in their mixtures and change them frequently to circumvent recent bans.
Where do you get it?
You might wonder where your child would get these lab-manufactured substances; the frustrating and scary truth is they’re often easily accessible at gas stations, paraphernalia shops, novelty stores, and of course, online. The packaging is fun and friendly, clearly appealing to young people, and not conveying the risk associated with consuming these products.
How does it affect the body?
Research shows that synthetic cannabinoids affect the brain much more powerfully than marijuana creating unpredictable and, in some cases, life-threatening effects including nausea, anxiety, paranoia, brain swelling, seizures, hallucinations, aggression, heart palpitations, and chest pains. Synthetic cannabinoids pose greater potential risks to users than marijuana, and due to lack of regulation, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what chemicals, and how much of them are in any given product. Using these substances is like playing a game of chance - not knowing what is actually being consumed. Synthetic cannabinoids bind more strongly on brain receptors than their natural marijuana counterpart and can produce extremely unpleasant effects like anxiety, hallucinations, increased heart rate, paranoia, and nausea.
This is important to be aware of as a parent if your son or daughter claims they’re “only smoking weed” but are having severe side effects - what they may be consuming is actually “spice” or one of the variations of synthetic cannabinoids its illicit cousins, not real marijuana.
Is Spice addictive?
Yes, people who use Spice a lot might have withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit. This means they can’t stop using it even when they really want to and even after it causes terrible consequences to their health and other parts of their lives.
How widespread is Spice use in teens?
Here’s where there’s some good news. According to the 2020 Monitoring The Future Study was done by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), only 2.5% of 10th graders have used Spice or K2 synthetic marijuana in the past year, a downward trend from 2.9% in 2019. That’s a sharp contrast to 28% who have used traditional or “real” marijuana and 40% who have used alcohol. Hopefully, this trend continues downward yet parents still need to be educated and alert about these products which are so harmful.
What’s the bottom line?
Teens are convinced by the easy, legal access, alluring packaging, and (false) claims that products like K2 and Spice are “natural” implying they’re harmless. These particular substances are also ‘popular’ because standard drug tests can’t easily detect some of the chemicals in them. This presents a double-whammy for parents who are trying to stay on top of what their kids are experimenting with.
What do I do?
As hard as it might be, have a brutally honest conversation with your son or daughter about the specific dangers of these man-made substances. Let them know they’re more dangerous than real marijuana as they may be under the assumption that they’re safer and need to know the true risk they’re taking if they use Spice, K2 or any other synthetic cannabinoid.
About the Author
Brenda Zane is a Mayo Clinic Certified health and wellness coach whose work supports moms of kids with substance use disorder. Her mission is to help moms maintain their health and sanity as they navigate the frightening and exhausting experience of having a child in addiction. Her podcast, Hopestream, and private, online community, The Stream, provide connection and hope plus resources related to holistic health, addiction, and treatment options. You can download her free ebook called HINDSIGHT: 3 Things I Wish I Knew When My Son Was Addicted to Drugs
Brenda also writes for various publications and is available to speak on topics such as parenting kids in addiction, purpose and transformation, self-care and coping strategies, and the impact of the opioid crisis.