K2/Spice is a synthetic cannabinoid that is included in a new drug class known as new psychoactive substances (NPS) – synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of different types of illicit drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and others.
K2 and Spice are brand names of a type of unregulated synthetic cannabinoid that is intended to mimic the effects of marijuana (Cannabis sativa). Other common names of Spice include “Skunk,” “Paradise,” “Moon Rocks,” and “Yucatan Fire.” Synthetic cannabinoids such as K2 have grown in popularity in recent years in the U.S. Spice/K2 and other synthetic drugs have become widely available and easily purchased from tobacco or head shops, on the internet and in gas stations.
Known by different names, these synthetic drugs can be extremely dangerous and addictive and produce a wide range of physiological and psychiatric adverse effects that vary in duration and severity. Treated at both inpatient and outpatient facilities, a comprehensive Spice and K2 addiction treatment involves a medically-supervised K2/Spice detox treatment that is followed by counseling or therapy sessions.
Types of synthetic cannabinoids
K2/Spice is a synthetic cannabinoid that is sprayed onto a mixture of dried plant material and herbs (herbal incense). The herbal incense is made into tea, smoked or mixed with marijuana. The liquid form of Spice/K2 (liquid essence) is vaporized and inhaled by users using an electronic device such as an e-cigarette.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), there are many synthetic cannabinoids that meet the definition of cannabimimetic agent under the Controlled Substances Act and are Schedule I substances. Many of these are sold as “incense” or “potpourri” to avoid being considered controlled substances.
Spice/K2 in the brain
Synthetic cannabinoids such as K2/Spice produce their effects by acting on the same endogenous (in the body) cannabinoid receptors as the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Similar to natural chemicals (cannabinoids) in the body, THC and synthetic cannabinoids slow down the communication between cells in the endocannabinoid system by activating cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptors.
While THC is a partial agonist of CB1 receptors, synthetic cannabinoids are considered to be full agonists. Full agonists act on CB1 receptors, which means that Spice/K2 is much more potent than regular marijuana. At times, synthetic cannabinoids can be stronger than THC and can be up to 100 times as potent as THC in natural cannabis.