The term Spice refers to some chemical formulations of synthetic cannabinoids, one of the two types of designer drugs that have been flooding the US market. These drugs cause dangerous side effects, including overdose. Synthetic cannabinoids typically feature a molecule or two that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, loosely mimicking the effects of THC found in organic marijuana.

Spice and Synthetic Cannabinoids: Dangerous and Addictive


Until very recently, Spice, K2, and some of the original formulas of synthetic cannabinoids were legal, but as the drugs proved that they were very dangerous to people who abused them, states and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) made chemical formulas illegal. However, manufacturers of designer drugs like synthetic cannabinoids often change the chemical makeup of the drug, which is sprayed onto dried plant material to mimic the appearance of marijuana. The material is then sold in foil packages labeled “incense,” “potpourri,” or “aromatherapy,” and they also often carry the label, “Not for human consumption.” By slightly changing the chemical formula, manufacturers make the drugs technically legal to import and sell, even though they are still very dangerous.

Synthetic cannabinoids like Spice are addictive and can quickly lead to overdose. Symptoms of overdose and some of the side effects of Spice abuse are similar. They include:

  • Tachycardia
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Paranoia
  • Dissociation
  • Extreme confusion
  • Psychotic episodes requiring sedation in a hospital
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Aggression toward oneself and others

The high associated with Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids does not typically last longer than a few hours, although as the chemical formulas change, this is becoming more unpredictable. Withdrawal symptoms after the euphoria wears off can also be so uncomfortable that the person may enter a cycle of Spice abuse just to avoid cravings and physical withdrawal symptoms, and this cycle can rapidly lead to overdose.

Withdrawal and Detox from Spice Abuse


Because synthetic cannabinoids like Spice are constantly changing, and a fairly new problem in the United States, there is not much information on the cycle of addiction and withdrawal associated with abusing these drugs. However, some recent studies, including a German study published in 2009, show that synthetic cannabinoids are addictive and produce withdrawal symptoms, including a withdrawal syndrome in some people who have struggled with Spice abuse for a long time.

The study conducted by German researchers involves observation of one individual, but it is the clearest report of withdrawal symptoms after abusing Spice for a long period of time. The study noted that the 20-year-old patient experienced the five criteria used to define addiction to a substance. These five criteria are:

  1. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping use of the drug
  2. Increasing dose over time
  3. Continued consumption despite understanding the consequences of abuse
  4. Strong desire or need to consume the drug
  5. Neglect of other interests or obligations (e.g., work, school, family, etc.)

The patient found that he needed to increase his dose rapidly over time – up to 3 grams per day, which is 10 times the original dose – and abused Spice Gold specifically for eight months. Withdrawal symptoms reported by the patient included physical side effects, as well as psychological effects like:

  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Intense cravings

Reportedly, overcoming cravings for Spice Gold were the hardest part of withdrawal. The man finally checked himself into a hospital. Once he began to detox with the help of medical professionals, ending his physical dependence on the drug took just one week. However, the man reported on day eight of his treatment, he began experiencing internal unrest and insomnia, which led him to crave Spice Gold again. The doctors overseeing his treatment prescribed medications to ease this anxiety and sleeplessness, and after a month, he was able to stop taking these medications, since his mind had learned that he did not need Spice to sleep or relax.

Medical Detox and Rehabilitation


At the moment, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and prescriptions to treat insomnia on a short-term basis appear to be the best method for easing Spice withdrawal symptoms. Working with medical professionals such as a doctor or psychotherapist can help to keep the individual on track and goal-oriented. In addition, the person will have access to small doses of prescription medications until withdrawal symptoms dissipate.

Detox is only the first step in overcoming addiction, whether the substance of abuse is Spice or other drugs. As shown in the German case study, overcoming the body’s dependence on a drug, through a detox program, does not mean the addiction and cravings have gone away. It is important to enter a rehabilitation program after detoxing from any substance of abuse. Through therapy, clients can achieve true balance in recovery.