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May 28, 2015
by Henry M. Pittman, MA

Dangerous World of Spice- Synthetic Marijuana Explored

May 28, 2015 05:55 by Henry M. Pittman, MA

The common thread between the District of Columbia, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska is that they all have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Each state has their own set of rules on how they govern the purchase, selling, transportation, and cultivating of marijuana. There are many states that are working towards their own legalization of marijuana. Regardless of when or if that comes to be, the effects of marijuana are the same, it is substance that causes euphoria, a high that causes impairment. There is no employer that is going to take a risk of allowing a person to use marijuana and be employed. It is a risk hazard regardless of it being legal per certain states and remains illegal on the federal level. Therefore, people who want to get high and/or avoid anyone knowing that they have substances in their urine, aka pass a drug test; would use “fake marijuana” or “synthetic marijuana” or “Spice”

What Is It?

Synthetic cannabinoids goes by the name “Spice”  It  hit the market in 2004 in Europe and emerged in the United States in 2008 (Bush & Woodwell, 2014).  “Spice” also fall under the Novel Psychoactive Substance. Corazza, Valeriani, Bersani, Corkery, Martinotti, Bersani, & Schifano, states that “Novel Psychoactive Substance (NPSs) also known as “designer drugs,” herbal highs,” “research chemicals,” and “legal highs,” comprise an ever increasing number of “chemical,” pharmaceutical, and herbal drugs often advertised as “legal” and “safe” alternatives to International Controlled Drugs (ICDs) (2014, p 288).”The active ingredient found in these drugs is not natural, yet they are “designed” to act like natural ingredients. For example, THC is the natural active ingredient in marijuana while JWH-018 is the active synthetic ingredient in spice. JWH-018 was created and designed to “act” like THC and give the effect that THC gives. Another example of NPS is Sildenafil Citrate is the active ingredient in Viagra, however a synthetic version of Sildenafil Citrate has been found in Herbal Viagra (Erowid, E., & Erowid, F. (2009). The most popular route of administration is smoking or ingestion just like marijuana. Yet they are more creatively marketed.

How Are They Advertised?

A person would be surprise on where one can purchase Novel Psychoactive Substances. Just look around the corner, the convenient corner store that is. Many of these “herbal” products are sold at gas stations, smoke shops, and over the internet. The way manufactures are able to sell these products and for stores to have them on their shelves takes a little bit of finesse. First, it starts with the label. A familiar phrase written on the package is ‘for novelty use only.’ This allows manufactures and sellers to bypass the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. This act gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) power to regulate herbs or supplements if the manufacture put on the label that this product produces a ‘high’ (Perrone, Helgesen, & Fischer, 2013). Another familiar phrase written on the package is ‘not for human consumption.’ This technique allows manufactures and sellers to bypass the “1986 Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act, which controls all analogues, or similar molecular structured chemicals, ‘to the extent intended for human consumption’ (Perrone, Helgesen, & Fischer, 2013, p. 216).” Next is the change in ingredients.

The Drug Enforcement Agency is responsible for the scheduling of drugs or substances into five categories. Drugs and substances are scheduled by their medical use, potential for abuse and dependency along with abuse rate (Drug Enforcement Agency, unknown). Schedule I substances have no medical benefits such as heroin and marijuana. The DEA has identified the active ingredient in ‘K2’ or ‘Spice’ was JWH-018 and was labelled as a scheduled I. Now the substance is band and illegal to sell. However, manufactures simply made a chemical molecular change and developed JWH-073 now the substance is legal to manufacture and sell. The cycles continues with a new substance and eventually ban such as JWH-122, JWH -200, CP-47 (Perrone, Helgesen, & Fischer, 2013).  The DEA has banned many synthetic ingredients however they are unable to keep up with the ever changing of the psychoactive “designer” substances.

Not only is the DEA unable to keep up, there are many brand names that Spice like products go by. Corazza et al. (2014) conducted a study and found 220 synthetic cannabimimetics which went by 490 different names. A person may think they are taking a different substance when in reality they are taking the same the thing. For example, Kryptonite, Black Widow, King Cobra, Dr. Feel Good, and Mr. Nice Guy all have the synthetic ingredient JWH-018 (Corazza et al., 2014).

The Developing Problem

Emergency rooms are increasing admitting patients with overdose and negative effects of ‘K2’ or ‘Spice’ or ‘herbal’ products. Bush and Woodwell (2014, p.1) states,

“The number of ED visits involving synthetic cannabinoids for patients aged 12 to 17 double from 3, 780 visits to 7, 784 visits in 2011; for patients aged 18 to 20 visits increased fourfold from 1, 881 visits in 2010 to 8, 212 visits in 2011.

Papanti, Schifano, Botteon, Bertossi, Mannix, Vidoni, Impagnatiello, Pascolo-Fabrici, & Bonavigo (2013) conducted a review of literature on synthetic marijuana and found psychopathological issues range from paranoid thoughts, combativeness, irritability, altered perceptions/mental status, thought disorganization, confusion, agitation, anxiety, panic attacks, restlessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. In the news, four people at a homeless camp were unconscious after smoking Scooby Snax, a brand of synthetic marijuana (Conner, 2015). According to Reeves & Amy (2015) a man who was accused of killing an officer had drug problem family reports which Spice was involved.

Moving Forward

“Spice” and spice like products have been around since 2004 and their use has steady increased as evident by emergency room visits and the increase reports to poison control centers. Out of 9,159 calls 8,264 of those calls were for encounters with synthetic marijuana (Perrone, Helgesen, & Fischer, 2013). Manufactures have been very creative in how they label and construct the psychoactive ingredient in order for it to be legally manufactured and sold despite the harmful consequences. Education about “Spice” along with Novel Psychoactive Substance is the best line of defense to prevent new users from starting and encourage current users to reframe and seek treatment as needed.


Bush, D.M. & Woodwell, D. (2014). Update: drug-related emergency department visits involing synehetic cannabinoids. The CBHSO Report.

Conner, C. (2015, May 8). 4 Homeless people overdose on ‘Scooby Snax ‘drug. Retrieved from:

Corazza, O., Valeriani, G., Bersani, F.S., Corkery, J., Martinotti, G., Bersani, G., Schifano, F. (2014). Spice, Kryptonite, Black Mamba: an overview of brand names and marketing strategies of novel psychoactive substance on the web. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 46 (4), 287 – 294.

Drug Enforcement Agency. (unknown). Drug Info: Drug Scheduling.  Retrieved from

Erowid, E., & Erowid, F. (2009). Spin offs: Prohibition’s high-tech cannabis substitutes. Erowid Extracts, 16, 12–16. (2015). Governing:data. Retrived from

Papanti, D., Schifano, F., Botteon, G., Bertossi, F., Mannix, J., Vidoni, D., Impagnatiello, M., Pascolo-Fabrici, E., & Bonavigo, T. (2013). “Spiceophrenia”: a systematic overiew of “spice” – related psychopathological issues and case report. Human Psychopharmacol Clinical Experience 28, 379-389.

Perrone, D., Helgesen, R.D., & Fischer, R.G.(2013). United States drug prohibition and legal highs: How drug testing may lead cannabis users to Spice Drugs: education, prevention and policy, 20(3), 216–224.

Reeves, J. & Amy, J. (2015, May 11). Mother: Son accused in officer killings had a drug problem. Retrieved from

About the Author

Henry M. Pittman Henry M. Pittman, MA

My name is Henry M. Pittman, MA. I am a Licensed Practitioner of the Healing Arts, Life Coach, Speaker, and Author. I help people to heal and/or develop the skills to overcome obstacles in their lives in order for them to create the life that they want.

Henry M. Pittman has a clinical practice in Houston, TX

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