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What Are the Worst Side Effects of Spice (Synthetic Marijuana) Use?

What is Synthetic marijuana ( Synthetic cannabinoids)

Synthetic marijuana comes in several varieties, and one of the most famous is known as Spice. This class of drugs is manufactured artificially to mimic the effects of marijuana, then sprayed on plant material like leaves or shredded pieces, to mimic the look of marijuana. The chemical formula that makes up Spice is now illegal, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, but other synthetic cannabinoids are being manufactured and imported legally, with minor changes to the chemical formula. The amount of the drug sprayed onto the plant material is not regulated or controlled for, so there are no methods to understand how much a person ingests in one use.
Spice (Synthetic Marijuana) being rolled into a joint

Article Snapshot

What Are the Serious Risks of Using Spice?

  • Mood or Emotional Effects
  • Brain Changes
  • Cardiovascular Harm
  • Renal System Damage

The first reports of harmful effects related to synthetic marijuana, including Spice, appeared in 2009, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. In the first six months of 2016 alone, AAPCC reported 1,682 exposures to Spice or other strains of synthetic marijuana. There were 7,794 calls about exposure to these drugs in 2015. General side effects of Spice or synthetic marijuana intoxication are dangerous enough. They can include:

  • Dry mouth or dehydration
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Depression
  • Headaches

Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids have intense, unintended effects on the person who ingests them. Spice itself is roughly 100 times more potent than marijuana, and that alone can be dangerous and quickly lead to an overdose. The chemical compounds used to create synthetic marijuana bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, just like marijuana, but they bind with greater affinity and potency, which can lead to dangerous changes in the body. However, there are many other dangerous side effects of using Spice, and these effects can be categorized into mood, brain, heart, and kidney effects.

Mood or Emotional Effects

Initially, Spice can elevate a person’s mood, but this effect can quickly become dangerous. Confusion, paranoia, and hallucinations can also occur, and numerous reports from emergency rooms and poison control attest to the psychotic levels of aggression, which can lead to self-harm, suicide, and physical violence toward others.

Psychosis appears to be one of the most dangerous potential side effects of Spice abuse. People who abuse Spice can experience acute, long-lasting psychosis without family, environmental, or genetic triggers for this psychological disorder. Signs of psychosis include:

  • Extreme anxiety
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Intense paranoia
  • Hallucinations and/or delusions

This form of psychosis is so common among people who abuse Spice that the symptom is sometimes called “Spiceophrenia,” due to its similarities to psychosis in individuals with schizophrenia. A survey of emergency room visits related to Spice at the Metropolitan Hospital Center in New York City between September 2012 and February 2013 found that, of 50 admitted patients, most experienced paranoid delusions, disorganized thoughts, severe agitation, and physical violence against others. Other symptoms included 30 percent experiencing suicidal ideation, 28 percent reporting anxiety, 20 percent reporting depression, and 0.05 displaying catatonia.

Brain Changes

Since Spice is a relatively new drug, in a relatively new class of addictive substances that have entered the US market, there is little information about the long-term effects Spice can have on the brain. However, many people who ingest the drug, even just once, experience seizures.

Additionally, it is likely that Spice can lead to addiction and dependence. Although there have been few studies conducted into incidence rates of addiction and dependence on Spice or synthetic marijuana, anecdotal reports suggest that people who abuse Spice experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not intoxicated with the drug.

You Might Also Be Interested In Other Forms of Marijuana, Pro & Con: Marijuana Legalization

Cardiovascular Harm

Numerous instances of Spice use lead to cardiovascular damage, including heart attacks in otherwise healthy young adults and teenagers. There has also been an increase in the number of strokes suffered by young people linked to abusing Spice. Both of these cardiovascular conditions can be deadly, and if they do not lead to death, they can cause lasting physical damage. Tachycardia and hypertension are common symptoms of Spice intoxication, and if these occur regularly or last for a long period of time, the individual’s heart, veins, and arteries can sustain damage.

A study from the University of South Florida in 2014 found that smoking synthetic marijuana, especially Spice, was correlated with ischemic stroke and potential development of other blood clots.

Renal System Damage

The kidneys filter toxic substances out of the body, and the serious toxicity of Spice and other synthetic marijuana strains has led to many instances of kidney damage.

Addressing Effects of Spice Use

The effects of synthetic cannabinoids like Spice are so intense that dangerous, violent, and life-threatening symptoms can appear with just one dose. It is important to get help for anyone who is experiencing the severe side effects of Spice by calling 911. Emergency medical help is the best way to prevent more serious physical problems, like extensive brain damage, cardiovascular problems, and kidney failure.

People who struggle with substance abuse problems, whether it is an addiction to synthetic cannabinoids or a polydrug abuse problem, should immediately seek help from a comprehensive rehabilitation program.

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Sunrise House is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More