Fraud Blocker
Blog post banner for: The Addiction Counselor’s Definitive Guide to Synthetic Marijuana (K2; Spice…)

On August 16, 2018, over 90 people overdosed on K2 in one New Haven park. In response to this spike in overdoses, officials responded with 19 additional reports of overdoses on Thursday. Synthetic cannabinoids like K2 were responsible for these overdose cases. However, many believed that the K2 was, laced with fentanyl, but after close examination, it was found that the package of K2, which caused mover than 90 overdoses, was not fentanyl-based. The product was sprayed with deadly amounts of chemical compounds, which resulted in feelings of euphoria. 

Many synthetic cannabinoids are illegal.

Recent federal and state laws banning specific synthetic cannabinoids have prohibited general categories of ingredients rather than specific chemicals. This makes it difficult for makers of synthetic cannabinoids to get around the rule, as they must create new products with different ingredients or label them “not for human consumption.” 

Synthetic cannabinoid products are unsafe because there is no way to know what they contain or how you will react.

The chemicals in synthetic cannabinoid products can vary, and some may be contaminated with other drugs or toxic chemicals.

Synthetic cannabinoids are not one drug. Hundreds of different synthetic cannabinoid chemicals are manufactured and sold, with new ones being created every year. These chemicals have various effects, but many users believe they are legal and safe. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) believes that most of the chemicals used in synthetic marijuana are manufactured in Asia without any regulations or standards.

Some of these chemicals are legal, though more illegal compounds have been found in synthetic marijuana. In 2015, the DEA listed 15 variants of synthetic marijuana as Schedule I substances, meaning they are in the same category as Crack Cocaine and Heroin.

The FDA also noted that over 75 other compounds that are not currently controlled have been identified. These chemicals range greatly in safety and are not all recommended for consumption.

What Is Synthetic Marijuana?

K2 or Synthetic Marijuana, also called Spice, is dried plant material, sometimes ground potpourri sprayed with chemicals to stimulate the Cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

It is divided into small packets called incense and carries a label with details, “Not for Human Consumption.”

Other street names named include Spice, K2, Green Giant, Smacked, Wicked X, AK-47, Geeked Up, Ninja, Caution, Red Giant, Keisha Kole, XXX Ultra, Skunk, Atomic, and many more.

Because of its various chemicals, Synthetic Marijuana K2 is classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule 1 Substance. In this way, buying or selling for any purpose is illegal.

Image of pacakges of Street named synthetic marijuana including Spice, K2, Green Giant, Smacked, Wicked X, AK-47, Geeked Up, Ninja, Caution, Red Giant, and Keisha Kole, XXX Ultra, Skunk, Atomic and many more.

Different forms of K2 are illegal, while some others have been altered just enough to evade the law and can still be bought in stores and online. This synthetic marijuana is also sold in liquid form that can be vaporized and inhaled through vaporizers and e-cigarettes.

The DEA defines synthetic marijuana as chemicals created in a lab, and they can be anywhere from 2 to 100 times more potent than THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Researchers have said this wide range is because the drugs used change from batch to batch.

How Synthetic Marijuana K2 Works in the Brain

As an addiction counselor, you should know about its effects on the brain. K2 Synthetic Marijuana is often described as a natural, safe, legal alternative to marijuana.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research shows us that prolonged use typically causes very dangerous results.

Continued use of synthetic marijuana may:

  • increase heart rate
  • cause hallucinations, and
  • aggressive or violent behavior.

In some cases, people who smoke synthetic marijuana experience psychosis and kidney damage.

Other symptoms include:

  • severe agitation and anxiety,
  • racing heartbeat and high blood pressure,
  • intense hallucinations, and
  • psychotic episodes.

Synthetic marijuana acts with the same brain cell receptors as Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. It is the active chemical in marijuana that affects the brain – but K2 is unpredictable, making the drug more dangerous than organic or unadulterated THC.

People who smoke synthetic marijuana may also report psychotic effects like:

  • confusion,
  • hallucinations,
  • extreme anxiety, and
  • paranoia.

The possibility of some other effects cannot be overlooked, such as

  • violent behavior,
  • increased heart rate,
  • suicidal tendencies, and
  • repeated vomiting.

How to Use Synthetic Marijuana K2

The most common way to use synthetic Marijuana K2 is by vaporizing it or smoke-dried plant material.

People who smoke synthetic marijuana blend the sprayed plant material with marijuana or brew it as tea. Liquid forms to vaporize in e-cigarettes are also commonly used.

Signs and Symptoms of Use

Since synthetic marijuana is often made with unknown ingredients, it can be difficult to tell if someone has developed a synthetic marijuana use disorder.

However, behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that may suggest addiction to synthetic marijuana include:

  • Using the drug more often than intended,
  • Experiencing changes in mood or behavior,
  • Spending a lot of money on the drug,
  • Using the drug even when there are negative consequences (such as job loss or trouble at home), and
  • Not being able to stop using the drug even after trying.

The individual is engaging in deception regarding their work or school performance and often has unexplained absences from work.

Furthermore, the individual’s grooming and personal hygiene are not up to par, as they are commonly seen stealing to get more synthetic marijuana.

Finally, using synthetic marijuana when unsafe can be considered deceptive.

Smoking synthetic marijuana can lead to psychological and physical addictions. Not to mention mind-altering properties that are similar to those of Marijuana.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders outlines different signs of addiction.

In our online Basic Knowledge addiction counseling education training, you will learn about the signs and symptoms of synthetic marijuana and other drugs in great detail. This training will help you understand when a client is showing signs and symptoms of illicit drug use.

Let’s cover some of the negative effects of smoking K2:

  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • confusion,
  • poor coordination,
  • seizures,
  • intense anxiety, palpitations, and
  • death.

Here are some of the symptoms that include, but are not limited to:

  • agitation,
  • sleepiness
  • irritability,
  • dizziness
  • loss of coordination,
  • inability to concentrate
  • stroke,
  • seizures,
  • relaxation,
  • elevated mood,
  • altered perception
  • changes in awareness of objects and conditions, and
  • psychosis (feeling detached from reality)

Long and short-term effects

People who have had bad reactions to Synthetic Marijuana K2 report symptoms like:

  • Fast heart rate and Throwing up
  • Extreme anxiety or nervousness
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Feeling confused, violent behavior, and suicidal thoughts

There are some other effects:

  • rapid breathing,
  • fast heart rate,
  • hypertension,
  • severe nausea,
  • vomiting, and
  • chest pain

Treatment short and long-term care

Synthetic marijuana use disorder will hurt relationships with family and friends. It may also interfere with other important parts of life. Whether you work in an inpatient facility or outpatient program, it is important to spot the signs and symptoms of dangerous K2 or Spice use– to help your clients to avoid the long-term consequences of synthetic marijuana use.

Both Long Term and Short Term care are necessary:

  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy 
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Contingency Management 

No pills, patches, or inhalers are approved to treat synthetic marijuana use disorder.

As an addiction counselor, you should communicate with one of the family members and caretakers to provide some important instructions for better care and improved results.

Safer Alternatives for Drug Counselors Helping Clients Using Synthetic Marijuana

When assisting clients seeking mind-altering experiences, drug counselors must consider safer alternatives to synthetic marijuana. Thankfully, there are legal and natural options available. One such alternative is CBD, derived from hemp and lacking psychoactive properties. CBD offers relaxation and potential therapeutic benefits without the risks associated with synthetic marijuana. Additionally, non-psychoactive herbs like chamomile, lavender, and passionflower can provide relaxation, while mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga offer natural ways to achieve altered consciousness and relaxation.

Empowering Drug Counselors to Support Clients Using Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana, or synthetic cannabinoids, presents grave risks to users’ health and well-being. These products have proven highly dangerous and unpredictable despite being marketed as safe alternatives. Drug counselors must educate themselves on the distinctions between synthetic and natural marijuana and explore safer alternatives.

By advocating legal and natural options like CBD, non-psychoactive herbs, and mindfulness practices, counselors can help clients achieve relaxation and altered perception without subjecting them to the detrimental effects of synthetic marijuana. Learning how to provide harm reduction practices, motivational interviewing, and client-centered support is paramount for effective positive outcomes.  and addiction support is paramount. You should always seek to equip your clients with the necessary tools for recovery.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Please share this post with your friends, family, colleagues, and social networks. 

Get your CASAC online at Educational enhancement and become a certified addictions counselor to help teens struggling with addiction.

Join our Addiciton Counselor Newsletter.

Stay up-to-date with relevant counseling best practices, treatment approaches, and general addiction recovery field news.

Join our FREE newsletter to learn about Addiction Prevention, Education, and Counseling.

Educational Enhancement is an OASAS-approved CASAC training provider (#0415) and NAADAC Approved (254148)



You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This