Spice Addiction and Abuse

By the time Westminster Council claimed that the number of homeless people using Spice was increasing in 2016, everyone already knew it was a national problem in the UK. Data from drug service providers in the UK revealed that it’s a rapidly growing problem, already common among vulnerable communities because it’s a cheap alternative to cannabis.

Business owners in Lincoln and Manchester complained about the problem, as disturbing images surfaced online showing passed out ‘zombies’ in public places, such as in parks and bus stations. It’s also a problem in UK prisons, where it was seized 734 times in 2014 and in 2015 there were 100 self-inflicted deaths, and 32,000 incidents of self-harm.

What Is Spice?

Spice is a street name for a psychoactive drug, which includes a mixture of herbs and chemicals that produce an effect similar to marijuana. It is a generic term given to all synthetic cannabinoids produced in labs to mimic THC, the main compound in marijuana. The major problem with Spice is that it’s not only one drug, but many variations of herbal materials that are dried up, shredded, and mixed with unknown addictive chemicals to produce psychoactive effects in recreational substance users.

Spice and K2 – One and the Same?

Marketers of this substance have been creative. Some might refer to it as K2, and others as Spice, but they are one and the same. They just have different names to try and skirt around the laws that make it illegal to sell or distribute synthetic cannabinoids in the UK.

Causes and Risk Factors for Spice

Risk factors for Spice addiction include:

Environment: Growing up in an environment where drugs are present, or hanging out with friends who abuse Spice, increases your chances of abusing drugs yourself. It’s important for parents to keep an eye on their children’s friends and where they spend their time.

Genetics: Addiction is believed to be a part of one of the genes passed down from parent to child. If one of your parents abused Spice, you’re also at risk for addiction.

Mental health issues: It might seem like a good idea to use Spice to improve self-image and boost confidence, but its effects are only temporary. Individuals who have mental health issues, such as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, and other co-occurring disorders might use Spice to self-medicate.

How is Spice abused?

Spice products claim to be naturally-occurring psychoactive materials, collected from various plants and herbs, but analysis has shown that their active ingredients are dangerous, untested, and addictive. All use of Spice products constitutes abuse. The most common use routes are to smoke it like marijuana, include it as an ingredient in baked goods, such as brownies, or drink it as a tea.

The Chemical Components

In 2009, Spice only had two synthetic chemicals, but, by 2012, that number had grown to 57. No one knows for certain the specific compounds in every single Spice derivate. According to the director of Poison Control, there are chemical laboratories that combine various different chemicals with spice and herbs. When the government outlaws one spice combination, they simply create another, making it almost impossible to track the supply.

However, insecticides, such as Raid, are used to cover up traceable compounds. You play Russian roulette with your life every time you take Spice because, you’ll never be sure what’s in the next batch.

Dangers of Spice Abuse

Spice acts on the same brain receptors as THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana. You should know that, unlike cannabis, Spice binds more strongly to the brain, making it more dangerous and lethal. The DEA explains that K2 stays in the body for a long time and each dose increases the amount that stays in your body.

Many patients admitted to hospital for Spice-related emergencies show signs of violent behaviour, repeated vomiting, suicidal tendencies, and accelerated heart rate. K2 is 100 times more addictive and powerful than marijuana, and withdrawal is usually accompanied by depression, headaches, and anxiety. It is an unsafe, addictive, and dangerous substance.

The Illegality of Spice

Synthetic marijuana is continuously evolving, making it hard to detect in standard drug tests. The increasing popularity might be fueled by the desire of recreational users to get high without the risk of failing a random drug test at work. Underground chemists avoid illegality by changing the chemicals contained with the drug, and using untested formulas.

Spice was made illegal in 2016, under the Psychoactive Substances Act, making it a crime to possess, produce, sell, or distribute Spice products in the UK. Breaking this law could lead to two years imprisonment.

Spice Abuse & Addiction Signs, Effects & Symptoms

Continued substance use is characterised as becoming accustomed to the feeling of the “high” the drug creates. The level of addiction to Spice is unknown because there isn’t sufficient research on the topic, but withdrawal symptoms do manifest when you’re dependent on Spice. There are severe risks associated with Spice abuse, given the potentially lethal combinations used, with some said to include rat poison.

The immediate effect of Spice abuse includes:

  • Confusion
  • Aggression
  • Heart attack
  • Loss of control
  • Dry mouth
  • Euphoria
  • Numbness
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Stroke

How Addiction Develops

Addiction to Spice begins just like with any other substance. You start with a small dose and gradually increase it until you’re taking large amounts of Spice on a daily basis. Repeated use leads to tolerance, characterised by increasing each dose to feel the original effect. After this stage, it’s fairly easy to end up depending on Spice to complete normal activities.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, not everyone who is dependent becomes an addict. It is differentiated by individual motivation. Addiction is a behavioural mental illness characterised by obsession and preoccupation to obtain and use more Spice.

Spice Abuse and Teens

Synthetic marijuana is one of the most abused substances among teenagers, second only to marijuana in the US. Teenage boys who are experimenting with illicit substances view it as a substitute for cannabis, and most end up in the hospital after experiencing the severe side effects of this drug. The trend is blamed on easy access, and the misconception that Spice is as naturally-occuring as marijuana, while remaining legal and safe to use.

In 2010, over 11,000 individuals were hospitalised for Spice-related incidents, and 75% of the patients were aged 12-29, proving that the problem is mostly related to teenagers and young adults. The primary demographic is white males who are homeless and poor. According to the NIDA, abuse begins at a young age, as nearly 3% and 3.5% of American eighth graders and twelfth graders, respectively, have abused Spice at least once.

Seven Signs you Need Professional Help to Quit Spice Abuse

    • You crave Spice 24/7 and you’re psychologically dependent on the substance to feel normal.
    • Spice is the first thing you take when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you take before bed at night.
    • You need Spice to keep your meals down.
    • Your loved ones have expressed concern over your poor hygiene, lower productivity, and rapid mood changes.
  • You live in a home environment where quitting on your own is not possible.
  • You’ve tried to get clean on your own but failed.
  • You don’t have a proper support network to motivate you to stay clean or help you through withdrawal.

The Health Risks of Abusing Spice

Abusing synthetic cannabinoids is a habit that leads to the breaking down of homes, relationships with friends, loss of work, and poor physical and mental health. The immediate effect of taking Spice is a display of violent behaviour and paranoia. You become extremely aggressive and may inflict physical harm on yourself and others.

In Manchester, where New Psychoactive Substances are popular, police have reported that Spice users enter a ‘zombie-like’ state similar to the monsters in “The Walking Dead”. 58 incidents of violence and anti-social behaviour happened in one weekend in April 2017 alone.

Physical, Emotional and Social Effects of Spice Abuse

Most people who abuse Spice in the UK are homeless and vulnerable. You might feel like you’re at rock bottom living on the streets, without a job or a family to look after you, so you numb the feelings of loneliness, sadness, and depression with Spice, because it’s cheap and readily available. Sadly, Spice doesn’t make all your problems go away.

It worsens any symptoms of mental health issues you might already have, making it impossible to get off the streets and get your life back on track. Professional addiction treatment will address all symptoms of substance abuse, including helping you to find a job.

Long-Term Spice Abuse Effects

There hasn’t been sufficient research to fully determine the long-term effect of Spice abuse. However, the chemicals contained in it are unsafe for human consumption and many people have died from drug overdose since 2010. You may experience vivid hallucinations, kidney damage, and psychoactive episodes whilst under the influence of Spice. Spice also worsens existing mental disorders, such as paranoia, anxiety, and depression.

Spice: Facts and Stats you Should Know

Common chemicals used in Spice production include cannabicyclohexanol, JWH-200, and JWH-018

Spice abuse leads to acute kidney damage, seizures, brain damage and psychotic episodes

K2 Spice first appeared in the UK in 2010

John Huffman was the first chemist to discover synthetic cannabinoids

Over 6,000 people were admitted to hospital for Spice use in 2015

In 2016, synthetic cannabinoids, such as mephedrone and Spice, led to 123 fatalities in the UK

Spice – Up to 100 Times Stronger Than Cannabis

Research has found that K2 is 100 times more addictive than cannabis, with more severe addictive substances within and worse withdrawal effects. One of the symptoms of Spice withdrawal, depression, could be very dangerous, and cause you to relapse when you’re trying to maintain abstinence. Spice is responsible for thousands of hospital visits in the UK and the United States. While information on the long-term effect is limited, the physical effect on recreational users should be enough to deter you from Spice abuse.


Is Spice a Legal High?

Spice is outlawed in the UK and the US. Prior to its ban, it was a legal high. Most of the chemicals used in making these drugs are unknown, have no medical use which makes it drug abuse for you to take Spice.

What is in Spice?

Spice is an illegal synthetic cannabinoid, made up of spices and herbs sprayed with a synthetic compound that mimics the effect of THC. Chemicals in spice include JWH-018, HU-210 and JWH-073.

What Does Spice Abuse Look Like?

When someone abuses Spice, the most visible sign is the ‘zombie-like’ state they are in. Users smell like they’ve smoked marijuana, appear to be heavily sedated, and only have the desire to smoke more Spice.

Can Spice be Abused?

Since Spice has no medical benefits, everyone who uses Spice is abusing the substance.

What Are the Side Effects?

The side effects of abusing Spice include suppressed respiration, violent behaviour, nausea and vomiting, seizures, and abdominal pain.

Do I Need Treatment?

You need professional help to quit Spice abuse, as it’s dangerous to try and quit on your own. Going to an addiction treatment centre ensures you receive the best medical care to help you detox safely, understand your addiction, and learn coping skills to maintain abstinence.

How Does Spice Affect the Brain and Body?

You experience an altered perception, relaxation, and elevated mood when you take Spice. Synthetic cannabinoids target the same cell receptors as marijuana, and bind stronger to these receptors. The uncertain nature of the exact chemicals used in production makes it difficult to determine the full effects.

How Dangerous is Spice Abuse?

The dangers of overdose and addiction are a real threat with synthetic substances, due to how strongly they bind to brain receptors. Each dose has a stronger effect in the body, making it more lethal and increasing the chances of experiencing a drug overdose.

Can Spice be Used Legally?

Spice is a controlled substance with no legal applications. It is a criminal act in the UK to produce, sell, or distribute Spice.

Can I Mix Spice with Other Substances?

It’s dangerous to mix Spice with other substances, as it might lead to severe interactions in the brain that cause overdose and increase the risk of fatalities.

What are the Street Names for Spice?

Street names include fake weed, K2, Yucatan Fire, and Moon Rocks

Who’s at Risk for Abuse the Most?

Spice use is common among the homeless and vulnerable people. Individuals who have a history of substance abuse and mental health issues are also at risk.

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