Symptoms, Signs & Effects of K2 & Spice (Synthetic Marijuana) Addiction

Understanding the signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana abuse can help you or a loved one make a decision about treatment. Every experience with synthetic marijuana addiction is different, and if you or a loved one are struggling, we are here to help.

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana Addiction

Learn about synthetic marijuana abuse and substance abuse

The use of synthetic marijuana, also known as “K2,” “spice,” and “black mamba,” has recently become a prominent topic within the media. Throughout the past few months, reports of hospitalizations, overdoses, and even deaths, from the use of synthetic marijuana has overwhelmed media outlets throughout the United States. Despite the federal ban placed on the substance in 2012, the production and distribution of synthetic marijuana seems to have only increased.

In its purest form, the synthetic chemical compounds that K2 is composed of are either oil or solids. This chemical compound is then sprayed onto a mixture of dried herbs and spices before being distributed. Originally marketed as “herbal incense” or “potpourri,” synthetic marijuana can be used by smoking, inhaling, or ingesting. The high that individuals receive from using this drug begins immediately after the substance enters the brain and typically lasts for 1-3 hours. This drug has consistently been marketed as a “safe” substitute for illegal drugs. But there is absolutely nothing safe about this substance.

One of the scariest aspects of this substance is the fact that no one knows for sure what the chemical compounds themselves consist of. The formulations of the chemicals that are used in developing these compounds are not consistent. In other words, you never really know what toxic substances you are putting into your body when you use the drug. Everyone’s bodies will react differently to the consumption of various toxins, meaning that one person could use the drug and achieve a “high,” while another person could use the drug and immediately fall into a state of psychosis. Sadly, there have been reports of the drug resulting in almost instantaneous death.


Synthetic marijuana abuse statistics

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, spice is the second most frequently used illegal drug among high school seniors after marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that, in 2012, male high school seniors were twice as likely as female students to use synthetic marijuana.

Despite the previously mentioned federal ban, recent reports have been consistently popping up showing the tragic results that this potent substance can have on its users. Between January and June of 2014 alone, poison centers throughout the United States reported receiving nearly 800 cases of synthetic marijuana exposures. Additionally, in March of 2014, over 100 people were treated for synthetic marijuana overdoses over the course of two weeks in Louisiana, and, over a 5-day period in May of 2014, 120 people throughout the state of Texas overdosed on the substance. Research on national statistics regarding use of the drug is still being conducted.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for synthetic marijuana abuse

Due to the complicated nature of synthetic drugs, much research still needs to be done in order to provide more conclusive results on the causes and risk factors that lead an individual to begin using the substance, and then to ultimately becoming addicted to the substance. The most commonly cited hypotheses, however, are described in the following:

Genetic: Addiction in general has a strong genetic component, as substance addiction is known to run in families. Genetics also play a role in the development of an individual’s personality and temperament, both of which can lead one to begin using various drugs, including synthetic marijuana.

Physical: To date, scientific studies on the effects that spice has on the human brain are still underway. However, researchers have stated that the cannabinoid compounds that K2 products consist of act on the same cell receptors in the brain that THC (which is the primary psychoactive element of marijuana) does. With synthetic marijuana, however, the composition of these compounds are believed to bind more strongly to the brain’s cell receptors, leading to much more powerful and unpredictable results.

Environmental: Environmental factors can play an enormous role in whether or not a person will begin experimenting with drug use, including experimenting with synthetic marijuana. It is not uncommon for individuals who grow up in chaotic home environments to begin using psychoactive substances as a means of escaping from the reality of the tumultuous world around them. Individuals who have suffered from various forms of trauma or abuse are also more likely to use substances as a way to numb themselves from their emotional pain and inner turmoil. Additionally, people who are exposed to drug use are at a higher risk of using drugs themselves.

Risk Factors:

  • Being of younger age
  • Being male
  • Exposed to chaotic, hectic home / work / school lives
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Family history of drug use and addiction
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Exposure to crime
  • Exposure to violence

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana abuse

Due to the various chemical compounds used in creating synthetic marijuana, the way in which individuals display symptoms of use vary greatly. The following are a few examples of symptoms that have been reported in spice users:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sudden, extreme bouts of hyperactivity
  • Sudden, extreme bouts of lethargy
  • Sudden, unprovoked, and extreme angry outbursts
  • Physical aggression

Physical symptoms:

  • Reduced or elevated blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Panic attacks
  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pains
  • Muscle spasms
  • Feeling unusually sleepy
  • Seizures

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusion
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Altered perceptions
  • Depersonalization

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Elevated moods
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Extreme depressive episodes
  • Psychosis


Effects of synthetic marijuana abuse

Due to the fact the drug is fairly new in the prominence of its circulation and use, the DEA is reportedly still studying its long-term effects. However, the most devastating effect of synthetic marijuana is sudden, untimely death. Additional effects that are believed to potentially result from chronic spice use include:

  • Familial discord
  • Destruction of interpersonal relationships
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Stroke
  • Seizure
  • Heart attack
  • Psychosis
  • Self-injury
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Synthetic marijuana abuse and co-occurring disorders

In many cases, individuals who are addicted to drugs are suffering from a mental illness. While this is not true for everyone who abuses substances, those who are struggling with a mental disorder may be seeking out a means of self-medicating the symptoms of that disorder, resulting in their using synthetic marijuana. Some of the mental illnesses that can be associated with the existence of synthetic marijuana abuse can include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Conduct disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal & overdose

Effects of synthetic marijuana withdrawal:

If someone has been using synthetic marijuana for a prolonged period of time and then ceases use, he or she has the potential of experiencing withdrawal. This period has been said to last for up to three days and includes the following effects:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Feelings of hunger, but experiencing an inability to keep food down
  • Hot flashes / cold flashes
  • Addition flu-like symptoms
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Excessive lethargy
  • Violent temper tantrums
  • Isolation
  • Cravings

Effects of synthetic marijuana overdose:

With all of the recent reports of synthetic marijuana overdoses, it is important to recognize that overdosing on this substance should be viewed as a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately. The effects of a K2 overdose can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Coma
  • Death