Cheap, legally manufactured, and widely available, synthetic marijuana — known as K2 or “Spice” — is one of the fastest-growing drugs across the United States, leading to devastating effects for users and their families. Sold as potpourri in corner delis for as little as $5 a packet, the drug circumvents regulation with the label “not for human consumption,” but the highly addictive substance is nearly always smoked with the goal of achieving a high.
With videos of “zombie” users in major cities surfacing online and the visibility of poor users in public areas, K2 has gained a reputation as a drug for the poor, but another highly vulnerable group is equally at risk. Billed as a “safe” alternative to marijuana that is not detected by standard drug tests, high school athletes and young employees subject to random drug testing are increasingly turning to K2, leading to lasting illness and heart damage.
Here’s what you need to know about this rapidly evolving drug.
What Exactly is K2/Spice?
Designed to mimic the effect of cannabis, K2 refers to shredded plant materials that have been sprayed with chemicals that create an instant high. Although often called “synthetic marijuana” or “fake weed,” these terms are misleading. Unlike cannabis, which refers to a naturally growing plant, K2 is a lab-made compound that changes with every batch. Users primarily smoke the product as “joints,” but it also comes in liquid form to be inhaled as vapor. Described as having a “numbing” effect, the drug eliminates all physical and emotional feeling, leaving users unable to stand or speak. When the drug wears off, users describe nausea and a flood of unpleasant emotions.
K2 manufacturers stay one step ahead of lawmakers by slightly altering the chemical makeup of every batch, which makes the drug difficult to monitor and even more difficult to regulate. Even after an amendment that added 36 compounds to New York state’s controlled substance list, the drug continues to legally appear in corner bodegas. Sold in packets targeting teens and young adults with names like “Scooby Snax” and “Mr. Happy,” K2 comes in kid-friendly flavors like bubblegum with colorful packaging. With no age regulations, kids as young as 13 are using, with teens among the largest age group for the drug, according to the National Institute of Health.
Names for the drug include:
- Mr. Nice
- Mr. Happy
- Lava Red
- Bombay Blue
K2 Myth vs. Fact
Myth: K2 is related to marijuana
Fact: Despite being called “synthetic marijuana,” K2 is not chemically related to marijuana. While there are no fatal overdoses linked to marijuana, despite the addiction problems that cannabis can cause, K2 is linked to hundreds of deaths in multiple states, prompting a warning from the FDA.
Myth: K2 is a “safe” alternative to illegal street drugs
Fact: K2 is a dangerous substance with unpredictable and potentially deadly side effects. Because the compounds change with every batch, so do the risks and potential complications.
Myth: K2 is only a problem in big cities
Fact: K2 has spread throughout the country, with the biggest concentration of overdoses in the Midwest. The drug has become a particular problem for high school athletes looking to avoid positive drug tests.
Myth: I don’t see K2 in my local convenience stores, so I don’t need to worry about my loved ones finding it.
Fact: K2 is easily available online, allowing teens to buy in bulk from local suppliers and international manufacturers.
Viral videos of users slumped over benches and unresponsive on public streets have demonstrated the striking effects of K2 use. The drug leaves users unable to speak or even move as it wreaks havoc on internal organs. Additional side-effects include:
- Increased heart rate
- Violent actions
- Suicidal tendencies
Even after the drug “wears off,” users report chest pain, fever, chills, heart palpitations and nausea. Some batches contain a blood thinner called brodifacoum, which can cause bleeding that lasts for weeks, according to the FDA. Doctors have also reported lasting heart damage. Ironically, athletes hoping to circumvent marijuana drug testing find themselves banned from participating in sports under doctors’ orders due to risk of further risk of organ damage.
Getting Treatment for K2 Addiction
Because K2 is manufactured by drug makers with an incentive to “hook” young users on their product, synthetic cannabinoids are now up to 100 times more powerful than marijuana, making these drugs highly addictive. Withdrawal can cause irritability, headaches, anxiety and depression. Because of the physical symptoms and delicate emotional state that K2 can cause for those who have become addicted, medical supervision is recommended. In-patient treatment can help users address underlying issues such as anxiety or depression, while guiding users toward healthy habits and strategies to maintain sobriety as they recover.
If you or someone you know struggles with synthetic marijuana addiction, you are not alone. Call our team today to take your first step toward long-term recovery.