The Truth About K2: How ‘Spice’ Is Affecting America

Marijuana is America’s favorite drug. In the last month alone, an estimated 22.2 million people have used it recreationally. As more and more states continue to approve of marijuana for medical purposes, the attitude surrounding the drug has become more lax; in an effort to sidestep the legal ramifications of being caught without a license, synthetic marijuana (also known as K2, or Spice) has risen in popularity.


What Is Spice?


The chemical compounds that make marijuana so appealing are called cannabinoids. K2 and Spice describe a group of drugs that contain lab-made cannabinoids — basically, dried plant materials are sprayed with this synthetic chemical in an attempt to mimic the high of marijuana.


They are not the same. The drugs in Spice aren’t chemically related to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana; though both of these synthetic and organic chemicals bind to the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain, synthetic cannabinoids can be up to 100 times more potent. As a result, the risk involved in getting high off of the stuff is quite high.


Is Spice Safe?


Not even remotely. In addition to the fact that there is no standard ‘recipe,’ meaning anything you buy could contain one chemical or a cocktail of different chemicals, the potency can send you to the hospital: between 2010 and 2011, calls to poison control centers due to synthetic cannabinoid use jumped by a staggering 240%.


“Despite the fact that the packages look pretty slick, these drugs are being illicitly manufactured and sold. There’s no quality control going on with them,” says William Fantegrossi, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “Even within the same package, you can wind up with different amounts of the drug. There’s no way to control the dose you’re getting.”


One of the reasons K2 and Spice became popular was because it offered a way for marijuana users to pass urine drug tests without giving up the high. Because the synthetic chemical differs from THC in structure, most rapid drug screenings did not detect its presence. In this risk-reward scenario, the risk is not worth it; leave the dangerous chemicals behind and pass your drug tests the old fashioned way — by giving up drugs!


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