Spice: What’s in a Name?

Spice. K2. Black Mamba. Fake Weed. Synthetic marijuana. Synthetic cannabis. Scooby Snax. Moon Rocks. Many names, seemingly which fit this deceptive drug.

What is Spice?

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 9.28.36 AMThe most common myth about Spice is that it’s more natural and safer form of marijuana. However, Spice is actually a synthetic cannabinoid compound, meaning it’s made from lots of chemicals that mimic and intensify the affects of marijuana.

“These drugs are produced by individuals who have looked on the Internet or have been told by somebody how to produce these drugs. They change the chemical composition, and it binds to the marijuana receptors (cannabinoid receptors), but it can have multiple different effects,” said John Nelson, M.D., Director of Emergency Services at Forrest General Hospital.

The substance of Spice is a variety of herbs, incense or other leafy materials that are sprayed with the chemical mixture. It is typically ingested through smoking, but it can also be baked into foods or made into a tea.

How it works:

The chemicals in Spice attach to small protein structures in the brain called cannabinoid receptors that control appetite, mood, sensation, pain and memory. These chemicals act as a full agonist, meaning they take control of these receptors, unpredictably changing how they function and communicate.

The difference between traditional marijuana and Spice is that while they both bind to the cannabinoid receptors, marijuana temporarily modifies the way they act, but Spice activates a cannabinoid receptor with up to 100 times more potency than marijuana. Because the formula for Spice changes so frequently, there is no real way to know what effect it will have on the brain and body. When someone uses the drug, they are putting their life on the line.

Side effects:

Spice users can experience a wide variety of potentially deadly side effects, which can change with every use. Some of these include:

  • Psychotic episodes
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased heart rate
  • Agitation
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Sedation
  • Uncontrolled body movements
  • Lack of emotional attachment
  • Kidney failure

There is no true prediction for a reaction to Spice. “It can make them stay awake for a long period of time, or it can put them out to a point where we have to put them on a ventilator,” said Nelson.

Laying down the law:

Spice was declared illegal in 2012, when legislation banned several of the key chemicals for synthetic cannabinoids. Since then, individuals and manufactures have avoided the ban as well as tightened DEA regulations by finding alternative chemicals, sometimes changing the formula with each batch.

Because Spice in all variations is illegal, it is often marketed as flavored incense, making it seem more attractive and less dangerous. Many users try Spice because they are led to believe it is a natural substance that is harmless compared to other drugs.

Close to home:

This year in Mississippi, over 1,000 Spice overdoses have been reported and 16 deaths are believed to be Spice related, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.

In peak times in 2015, Forrest General has seen anywhere from 2-6 spice cases per day. ER traffic with Spice overdose patients will often stabilize then rise dramatically with a local presence of a new formula of Spice. Many of those patients will often end up in the ICU for increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and changes in heart rhythm. Doctors have said they have seen permanent damage including the need for pacemakers or dialysis in young people.

If you know someone who is experimenting with this drug, encourage him or her to stay away. There is no safe level of consumption, and there is no way to predict the outcome. If you suspect someone has used Spice and is having a reaction, call 911 or take them to the emergency room.