While marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic in most places, “spice” or synthetic marijuana is completely legal in nearly all corners of the globe. Schedule 1 narcotics are classified as:

• Drugs that have a high potential for abuse
• A drug with no currently accepted medical use
• Lack of accepted safety when using the drug under medical supervision

Due to this rather heavy classification, many substances started popping up all over the country that were marketed as “safe” and legal alternatives. In fact, a lot of these substances don’t have age restrictions, or many (if any at all) regulations due to the fact they are labeled “not for human consumption.” While this simple label keeps them legal, and for sale over the counter at most smoke shops, gas stations, or even some smaller grocers, that doesn’t make them safe. In fact, research suggests that “safe” synthetic marijuana alternatives could be far more dangerous than the drug itself.

What is Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana is typically labeled as containing “natural” psycho-active material derived from plants that produce the same type of effects a user would commonly associate with marijuana consumption. However, the claims don’t hold up to lab tests, which reveal that although some packages contain a modicum of organic matter, most – or all – of the organic ingredients are fully synthetic cannabinoid compounds, most of which wouldn’t hold up to FDA testing, and aren’t understood in terms of the long term effects the substances can have on humans.

Synthetic marijuana was initially sold in the United States in 2008, and started to make appearances in smoke shops, where they were marketed as incense. Spice and K2 were two popular brands of synthetic marijuana, and as such the two have become commonly known street names that refer to many kinds of synthetic marijuana, not necessarily those two particular brands.

Usage, Safety, Enforcement and Legality

Spice users treated in poison control centers, or hospitals typically report symptoms such as:

• Agitation
• Confusion
• High blood pressure
• Vomiting
• Rapid heart beat
• Reduced blood supply to the heart (myocardial ischemia)
• Heart attacks

In addition to the dangerous side effects users experience from synthetic marijuana, they also tend to report withdrawal and addiction symptoms that are common in many cases of substance abuse.

Usage of the drug peaked somewhere around 2011, as approximately 11-percent of high school students had reported trying the drug. In 2013, that number had dropped to 7.9-percent, but emergency room visits due to use of synthetic marijuana continue to climb.

Part of the reason for this climb in hospital visits is due to the 2012 Synthetic Drug Prevention Act, which prohibited the sale or possession of synthetic marijuana alternatives. While illegal, these substances are still for sale, in broad daylight, in nearly every smoke shop in the country. The problem is a veritable cat and mouse game between synthetic marijuana producers and the Drug Enforcement Agency as the DEA continues to ban known substances in synthetic marijuana, while producers switch to other substances to keep their products legal. This back and forth leads to producers making mixtures that are completely legal (under the current law) but using alternative substances which aren’t understood, regulated, or assumed to be safe for consumption. Each time the DEA bans a new substance, the producers just find an alternative that can produce the same – or similar effects.

While we’re still not 100-percent sure how spice effects humans over periods of extended use, there is cause for concern due to harmful heavy metal residues found in some brands. Not enough is known, but what we do know is that spice isn’t a “safe” alternative to marijuana.

If you or a loved one is addicted and struggling with substance abuse, contact us today to find out how Burning Tree West helps young adults win their battles with addictions.