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February 2019: synthetic drug Addiction

Spice and K2 Addiction

Synthetic drugs are drugs that are manufactured from man-made chemicals instead of natural ingredients. Synthetic drug abuse in the United States has been increasing. Many of these manufactured drugs (also known as designer drugs) are dangerous and in some cases have never been tested on humans. While some of these drugs are legal in certain states, that doesn’t mean that they’re safe. Spice and K2 are the more popular versions of synthetic cannabinoids, which get its name for using chemicals similar to those found in marijuana. Synthetic cannabis was originally developed for research purposes and was never meant for human consumption.

Designer drugs, such as Spice and K2, have largely sprang up to legally traffic in altered versions of illegal drugs. Manufacturers get around the laws by altering the drug in such a way that it’s not classified as an illegal substance and labeling these drugs as “not for human consumption” which avoids drug and health laws. There’s been an ongoing struggle back and forth between legislatures looking to curb the use of these drugs, and the manufacturers changing their formulas enough to avoid existing laws. 

Between 2009 and 2014, the DEA identified between 200 and 300 new designers drugs from eight different structural classes, the vast majority of which are manufactured in China. The most common of these drugs are synthetic cannabis (spice & K2) and synthetic cathinones (bath salts). 

Since these are lab-made drugs and unregulated, it’s impossible to know the exact components of any given batch of drugs. There was a case in Illinois were patients ended up in the hospital with severe bleeding from synthetic cannabis laced with rat poison. 

A common reason for synthetic cannabis use, by marijuana users, is to avoid a positive urine test. A standard 5-panel drug test will not detect the presence of either K2 or Spice. Some individuals think that spice/k2 it’s an easy way to continue smoking what they think is similar to marijuana. In reality, synthetic cannabinoids are significantly worse on the body, linked to dependency, and have the potential for severe side effects. In 2011 the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported 28,531 ER visits related to synthetic cannabinoids. 

Spice and K2 Effects on the Brain

Synthetic cannabinoids affect the same brain receptors as THC, the mind altering ingredient in marijuana. It’s difficult to predict the exact effect spice or K2 may have on the body as it’s unregulated and the chemical composition may change. Some of the reported psychotic effects of spice and K2 may include: extreme anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations. Additional effects may include: violent behavior, elevated heart rate, and suicidal thoughts. Scientific studies have also found that synthetic cannabis can result in acute toxic side effects including seizures, hypertension, vomiting, hypokalemia (which can have minor symptoms such as muscle cramping or severe symptoms such as paralysis or respiratory failure), [also] cardiac arrest, hyperthermia, nephrotoxicity (toxicity in the kidneys), and acute cerebral ischemia (death of brain tissue from lack of oxygen). 

Withdrawal of Spice, K2, and Synthetic Cannabinoids 

Synthetic cannabis has been linked to longer withdrawal symptoms, similar in time to opiates. Also the onset of withdrawal can be much faster than other drugs. In some cases it’s reported that withdrawal symptoms can start as early as 15 minutes after smoking. 

Abrupt cessation of use has been linked to reoccurring seizures as well as cardiovascular and respiratory complications. The severity of withdrawal, as with many other drugs, depends on the severity and frequency of use. More common withdrawal symptoms include: cravings, loss of appetite, anxiety, nausea, headaches, and diaphoresis (profuse sweating).

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Quick Facts on Teen Synthetic Drug Use

In 2018, a reported 3.5% of 12th graders had used K2 or Spice in the past year. (NIDA)

In 2018, a reported 6% of 12th graders had used narcotics other than heroin in their lifetime. (NIDA)

While the use of bath salts decreased in 2018 for 10th and 12th graders, use by 8th graders in the past year increased from 0.5% to 0.9%. (NIDA)

A reported 4.1% of 12th graders had used MDMA in their lifetime in 2018 data. (NIDA)

A staggering 47.8% of 12th graders had reported in 2018 that they had used illicit drugs in their lifetime. (NIDA)

Frequently Asked Questions

What are designer drugs?

Designer drugs, also known as synthetic drugs, is a term to describe manufactured drugs that are designed to circumvent laws around illegal drugs. Given that they are not natural, but manufactured, they designer drugs are often referred to as synthetic drugs. 

Between 2009 and 2014, the DEA identified between 200 and 300 new designers drugs from eight different structural classes, the vast majority of which are manufactured in China. The most common of these drugs are synthetic cannabis (spice & K2) and synthetic cathinones (bath salts). 

What is spice?

Spice and K2 are the more popular versions of synthetic cannabinoids, which get its name for using chemicals similar to those found in marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids affect the same brain receptors as THC, the mind altering ingredient in marijuana. It’s difficult to predict the exact effect spice or K2 may have on the body as it’s unregulated and the chemical composition may change.

What are bath salts?

Bath Salts is the name given to synthetic cathinones, a manufactured drug similar to amphetamines such as meth and MDMA. They are usually found as white or brown crystals, but shouldn’t be confused with Epson salts (actual bath salts that people add to their bath to relax). Manufacturers get around health laws by branding the drug not for human consumption, although when abused, they are generally snorted, injected, or swallowed. 

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is incredibly powerful and dangerous. While similar to morphine, it is 50 to 100 times more powerful. A schedule II prescription drug, Fentanyl is classified as having a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.

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