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Synthetic marijuana: “Spicing” things up!

Published On: 10-01-2015 in Category: addiction, Addiction Treatment, Recovery, Treatment Centers


In Phoenix and Maricopa County, 45 people were reported to be involved in Spice exposures in 2014 and three in just the beginning of 2015, according to the statistics gathered by Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center.

Designed to mimic the active element in marijuana called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Spice comes in the form of dried plants and stems laced with recently synthesized chemicals. Often known as synthetic marijuana, fake weed, K2 and Skunk, it’s largely marketed as having similar effects to marijuana. It is, however, not a derivative of the same plant. This is why people do not consider Spice to be particularly worrisome, as they perceive it to be just a bunch of dried herbs that will cause the same reactions as marijuana.

Spice is, in reality, quite different from marijuana and might even be more dangerous than its counterpart.

Launched in 2004 in the U.K., it began gaining significant recognition in 2006, particularly in the U.S. The harmful effects from these products were first reported in the U.S. in 2009. Since then, the use of this drug has spread rapidly. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), poison facilities received 2,668 calls about exposures to Spice in 2013 and 3,680 in 2014. In 2015, through July 6, poison centers have already received reports of 4,377 exposures to synthetic marijuana.

For several years, Spice mixtures made for an easy purchase over the Internet packaged in small colorful packets, exuding a façade of harmlessness. It’s been marketed as an herbal substitute for smoking tobacco with a list of “All-Natural” ingredients on the back.

An analysis in association with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealed Spice may contain one or more of the many synthetic cannabinoids such as JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, AM-2201 UR-144, XLR-11, AKB4, cannabis cyclohexanol and AB-CHMINACA, AB-PINACA or AB-FUBINACA. In some samples, even the presence of prescription drug phenazapam was discovered.

The variety of chemicals might be even greater when it comes to the liquid form of Spice. Some suspect that a few brands of liquid Spice may contain traces of synthetic psychedelics such as 2C-P.

Governments around the world have started paying attention to Spice consumption. An analysis conducted by the German government in 2008 showed some products containing almost none of the supposedly mild traditional herbs that were advertised as ingredients.

However, Spice manufacturers continue to develop new varieties of chemicals to find ways around new laws against synthetic cannabis.

Many countries around the world, including the United States, made synthetic cannabis illegal. In May 2013, DEA formally banned synthetic marijuana as a Class I drug, making the distribution of legal weed a federal crime in the U.S. Unfortunately, the DEA action only covered a small number of chemicals, only five of the most common chemicals used. Some states are taking further action to limit all forms of spice.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Spice has been linked to thousands of emergency room visits each year with 11,000 in 2010 alone. These mostly included young men aged 12 to 29. There were almost 3,000 calls about Spice to poison control in 2010 and nearly 7,000 in 2011.

Spice products are popular particularly among young people. When considering illicit drugs are mostly used by high school seniors, Spice falls second only to marijuana. Main reasons to account for this popularity are largely associated with the misconception of Spice being safe and legal. Another top cause is the fact that the chemicals Spice consists of are not detectable in standard drug tests.

A common question often raised is whether Spice is addictive. It is important to realize that Spice is quite different from marijuana chemically even if it produces similar results. Therefore, the answer to this question is yes.

“When I talked to my patients about Spice, every one of them would say the effects were extremely unpleasant and they wanted to stop,” said Brendan Bickley, Executive Director of Treatment Solutions Network in Costa Mesa, California. “But then they’d take it again. That was when I realized the addictiveness of the drug.”

According to the AAPCC, such synthetic drugs can be extremely dangerous and addictive. Health effects from the drug can be fatal and include:

1.severe agitation and anxiety

2.racing heartbeat and significantly higher blood pressure

3.nausea and vomiting

4.muscle spasms, seizures and tremors

5.hallucinations and psychotic episodes

6.suicidal and other harmful thoughts and/or actions

So far there have been no significant studies that explore deeper into Spice’s effects on the human brain, but the cannabinoid compound found in Spice acts on the same cell receptors as THC does in marijuana. Some of the compounds found in Spice, however, bind with much more force to these receptors, deeming their effect much stronger and unreliable.

In 2011, then-Gov. Jan Brewer signed Arizona’s first bill classifying the chemicals, discovered in Spice, as dangerous drugs. In 2013, the state expanded its definitions of dangerous drugs to include chemical configurations for synthetic drugs including Spice.

Such modifications of the law largely rendered intended results. Most of Arizona’s manufacturers went out of business or were seized by the DEA, according to Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Arizona division.

“While it’s still out there, we are not seeing it to the same extent that we were two years ago,” he said. “A lot of the stuff has gone underground.”

If you or a loved one is battling addiction and is currently seeking recovery, the Phoenix Drug Treatment Rehabilitation Center is available to you. Our representatives realize how stressful the process of choosing a rehab can be and will assist you in any way to make it easier. For further information or admissions, call us right away.

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