Since 2007, I have been asked “what is synthetic marijuana?” and “what is K2?” and “what is spice?” They are different names for the same chemical group, which acts like marijuana but is sprayed on flora to make this new drug. Similar to regular marijuana, users smoke synthetic marijuana. It has some similar effects, including the much desired psycho-tropic euphoria. According to the CDC, common negative side effects include: agitation, tachycardia (rapid heartbeats, which people sometimes freak out over and then they go clog up the emergency room), drowsiness or lethargy, vomiting, and confusion. I began training people on this in 2009,
In addition to the aforementioned names, I have discovered that it also goes by:
- Pep Spice
- Spice Gold
- Spice Silver
- Yucatan Fire
- Orange Dragon Smoke
- Black Mamba
History of Synthetic Marijuana
The original chemical formula was created by John W. Huffman, a chemist from Clemson University. He was doing research on marijuana that was funded by NIDA and when he created the new compound, he named it after himself: JWH-018. It was introduced in America in the early 2000’s, and was sold in bodegas, gas stations and head shops.
It became particularly popular with people who were regularly drug tested (people on probation, some athletes). This was because it took a few years before a urine screen was developed to detect it.
For several years, it was sold in packages as incense with a message on it that read “not for human consumption.” This allowed the burgeoning industry to evade FDA detection for a little bit and shrug their shoulders and say they were shocked when people were ingesting it (no company has openly manufactured it, so I think the “shocked” clip works well when juxtaposed with “not for human consumption,” because it is absolutely made for human consumption).
FDA Steps In
Because it was legal and easily accessible, use in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s skyrocketed. The FDA acted swiftly and put a temporary ban in place on the 5 most common synthetic marijuana compounds. The ban went into effect on March 1, 2011. One year later, a full federal ban was enacted. Additionally it was made a schedule I drug (highly addictive, no medical value, completely illegal) in July of 2012.
Early on, a number of other countries banned it. Countries with bans for synthetic marijuana include the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Chile, New Zealand, Japan, and Romania. Surprisingly, synthetic marijuana is still legal in Canada. It is no longer in head shops, but it can easily be found on the internet. A harrowing tale of a professional couple’s addiction to the drug made headlines this past March in Edmonton.
Synthetic Marijuana Among Youth
A 2012 Federal Survey reported that 1 in 9 high school seniors had tried it, making it the fourth most familiar substance in high school after tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. Use went down significantly after the federal ban, but over the last two years it has been making a comeback. It was very much in the news in NJ in March of 2013, as a car with 16 pounds of synthetic marijuana was pulled over in Hunterdon County, a 17 year-old from New Providence was hospitalized after using it, and Governor Christie signed a bill into law that gave harsh penalties to those that manufacture or sell it.
A major problem with it is that instant urine screen tests do not detect it. One must send a test to a lab. Furthermore this testing often costs more than many treatment programs (and most probation offices) can afford. This lack of testing encourages people on probation and in drug programs to use synthetic marijuana. Another problem is that drugs that are labeled as K2, Spice, Space, Synthetic Marijuana or other variations are not always of the JWH-018. Rather, they are just a combination of flora with bath salts or MDMA or PCP or something else. I expect we will continue to see more overdoses. Additionally we will see more emergency room visits for patients who exhibit psychotic features.
What Do I Do If a Loved One is Using Synthetic Marijuana
The synthetic marijuana industry lacks significant regulation. Due to the lack of oversight it is very difficult to determine what goes into each batch. Synthetic marijuana use is not something to take lightly. If you have a loved one using synthetic marijuana please seek out professional help.