K2 is the street name for substances known as a synthetic cannabinoids. Also known as spice these drugs have been growing in popularity in recent years with a resulting spike in K2 addiction.
The chemical makeup of synthetic cannabinoids closely resembles that of marijuana. For that reason K2 and spice are often referred to as “fake marijuana” or “fake weed.” However, the psychoactive ingredients in these products are unique and often considerably stronger than delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s active ingredient. John Douglas, MD, clinical director of Silver Hill Hospital’s Outpatient Opioid Addiction Program explains that “They stimulate the same receptors as marijuana but have a completely different chemical structure.” The stimulation of these receptors affects the central nervous system producing symptoms of K2 use that include relaxation, an elevated mood and hallucinations.
K2 is a liquid. Some opt to brew the liquid into a tea or it can be vaporized and inhaled as an e-cigarette. More often it is sprayed on dry leaves and smoked. 26 different types of cannabinoids are classified as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act. According to the DEA, Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. K2 is often marketed as incense or potpourri and labeled as “not for human consumption” to circumvent legal restrictions. Additionally, manufacturers continually revise the chemical composition of these substances to skirt the law.
K2 and spice are also known as Black Mamba, Bliss, Bombay Blue, Fake Weed, Genie, Spice, Zohai. These products are sold at convenience stores, gas stations and via the internet. Because they are so widely available many people are under the misconception that these substances are safe.
Their easy availability has made them especially popular with young people resulting in a spike in K2 addiction within this group. John Douglas cites another reason why they’re popular with young people: “It’s a very experimental population and they’re interested in trying the latest or new thing” According to the National Institute on Drug Addiction, 5.2 percent of 12th graders surveyed reported using in 2015.
The Dangerous Effects of K2/Spice
Synthetic cannabinoids can pose a significant health threat. Side effects of K2 spice include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dangerously elevated bold pressure
- Kidney damage
- Violent behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
- Increased agitation
- Delusional or disordered thinking
- Heart palpitations
Along with the rise in K2 abuse has come a corresponding increase in overdoses. In October of 201, poison control centers nationwide reported more than 5,500 calls related to K2 products – nearly double the total from the previous year. In May of 2014 120 people in Texas overdosed on synthetic cannabinoids over a five day period. And The New York Times reported that in the first three weeks of 2015 “poison control centers received about 1,000 reports of adverse reactions to spice, more than doubling the total from January through March, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.”
Part of what makes the drug so dangerous is that manufacturers are always coming up with new variations that include toxic additives and impurities. “The precise chemicals in the products are constantly changing, which can lead to unpredictable medical consequences,” said Michael Baumann, staff scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Because of their unique and ever-changing chemical structures. For that reason they often cannot be detected by urine tests.