Synthetic Marijuana (Spice/K2) Addiction and Treatment

A closer look at synthetic marijuana:

First on the scene in London in 2004, synthetic marijuana (Spice/K2) made its way into US culture in 2008, flying under the radar of illegal drugs and being marketed as “herbal incense” and often being labeled as “not for human consumption.” Synthetic marijuana is a mix of plant matter or incense that is sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids. Highly unpredictable, synthetic marijuana is considered dangerous and more likely to cause psychosis than traditional cannabis. The drug was banned in the US in 2012.

Short-Term Effects of Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana can produce a high similar to natural marijuana, but it is typically more intense. While some of the effects can be pleasant, unpleasant side effects are much more common. The user’s experience is unpredictable, relying on a number of factors including personal biological makeup, chemicals used, amount consumed among other variables. The following is a list of the short-term effects typically experienced:

  • Elevated mood
  • Relaxation
  • Altered perception
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Pale skin
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dry mouth

Long-Term Effects of Synthetic Marijuana

Extended use of synthetic marijuana can cause physical and psychological problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Breathing issues
  • Organ damage
  • Long-lasting psychosis

Synthetic Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Apathy
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings
  • Nightmares
  • Restlessness
  • Headache
  • Depression

The Science Behind Synthetic Marijuana

Lab-produced cannabinoids, similar to those found in natural marijuana, act as agonists on CB1 receptors and mostly affect the central nervous system.


Depending on the amount and duration of use, supervised detox may be warranted. As with other drugs of abuse, treatment typically involves addressing underlying issues, co-occurring disorders as well as the substance misuse.