Spice FAQ

What Is Spice Drug Used For?

Spice is a drug used to get high. It is a synthetic cannabinoid, which is a machine-made drug mimicking the chemical compounds found in marijuana [1].

In the UK, Spice is banned. Spice is one of the many drugs previously called “legal highs” [2].

Legal highs are machine-made drugs designed to work like cocaine, ecstasy and speed.

The way these drugs were made, manufacturers tweaked them in order to evade The Psychoactive Substances Act (PSA).

Up until 2016, legal highs were allowed for sale in the UK.

After amending the law in May 2016, Spice was made illegal.

The new law also meant “headshops” that sell drug paraphernalia are scrutinised.

“Not Safe for Human Consumption”

To get around the law, manufacturers of Spice and other Legal High products alter the chemical components of their merchandise.

Spice products are also presented in colourful packaging with the label “not fit for human consumption”, which seemingly warns the public of its adverse effects.

But the packaging and the warning appear to be very misleading.

The majority of Spice users are young people, who are led to think that the effects of Spice are similar to weed. After all, Spice could hide under the name, “Fake Weed”.

But Spice and other legal high products pose a health hazard to individuals who experiment with them.

The sad truth is there are many A&E incidents due to Spice usage. This is heartbreaking, especially for the parents and family members of young users.

How Addictive Is K2 Spice?

Spice tends to be as addictive as the “natural” drug it was designed to mimic, cannabis.

However, in a recent report, commissioners have been actively campaigning for Spice to be categorised as a “Class A” drug [3].

Class A drugs include heroin and cocaine, which are highly addictive and dangerous drugs.

Officials have also urged to government to make the use of Spice a public health issue.

The process of manufacturing Spice varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, because of this variance, how negative it affects individuals differs for each kind of product.

In the illegal market, Spice can be sold under the following labels:

  • Synthetic marijuana
  • Herbal incense
  • Herbal smoking blend
  • Mr. Happy
  • Mojo
  • Bliss
  • Genie
  • Scoobie Snax
  • Mamba
  • Fake Weed

Physical signs of addiction to Spice are [4].

  • Developing a tolerance for Spice – need more and more of the drug in order to feel high
  • Withdrawal symptoms when cutting down or trying to stop the usage of Spice

Unlike physical signs of addiction, some individuals ignore psychological dependence symptoms, labeling these behaviours as “acting out”.

As a result, psychological signs of addiction to spice sometimes overlooked.

These psychological symptoms, which are originally for Cannabis Use Disorder are [4].

  • Using more Spice than initially planned
  • Trying but being unable to cut down the usage of Spice
  • Spending way too much time obtaining and using Spice
  • Not enjoying activities previously enjoyed, preferring usage of Spice instead
  • Continued usage of Spice even if problems at work or school are caused by it
  • Not fulfilling financial and/or family obligations
  • Financial problems due to buying Spice

Some individuals chose to have professionally assisted detox in a drug rehab clinic in order to deal with the physical and psychological issues associated with Spice addiction.

The chance of relapse is lower when professional help is sought, improving the outlook of a person trying to recover.



How Does Spice Drug Work?

Spice affects the same parts of the brain cannabis does [5].

Having the same effect on the brain’s receptors as THC but in a stronger more unpredictable manner, Spice specifically works by:

  • elevating mood – producing feelings associated with happiness
  • making individuals fee relaxed
  • altering how individuals perceive things, which can make persons more aware or vigilant
  • creating a sense of detachment
  • affecting the part of the brain that distinguishes reality from fantasy, which can lead to having hallucinations.

In addition, Spice works in parts of the brain controlling a person’s:

  • Memory
  • Sexual activity
  • Pain management
  • Moods
  • Appetite
  • Attention

How Long Does It Take For Spice to Kick In?

By smoking Spice, the effects usually start to kick in between 5 to 30 minutes.

By swallowing spice, the effects are noticed 4−6 hours afterward [6].

How Long Does K2 High Last?

The high felt after taking Spice lasts several hours; with some individuals, the effects can be felt up to seven hours after using the drug [4].

Spice can stay in the body longer than a month, as it has been documented that storage is primarily through a person’s fatty tissues.

After 41 days in the body, half of the amount used is excreted (drug half-life). About half of the remaining Spice in the body would need some more time to be completely eliminated [7].

The effects of Spice can be felt for up to 24 hours after use. But most research efforts show that Spice is felt most intensely 1 to 8 hours after being smoked [7].

What Are The Side Effects Of K2 Spice?

The side effects of using spice are: [4]

  • vomiting (with or without blood)
  • nausea
  • hallucinations
  • heart palpitations
  • seizures
  • extreme anxiety
  • high level of irritability
  • violent behaviours such as destruction of property, harming other persons
  • suicidal thoughts

To understand addiction to Spice better, we need to know that individuals who use Spice are motivated by:  [7]

  • wanting to get “high”
  • avoid detection from drug testing
  • [previous] legality of Spice
  • curiosity
  • liking the effects
  • readily available in “headshops” or internet sources
  • for relaxation
  • lower cost than other mind-altering substances

In addition, some individuals are more at risk of using Spice than others [4].

Usually, these at-risk individuals are described as:

  • Previous or current users of cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, and other addictive substances
  • With less than 10 years of formal education
  • Has a family member who has a substance abuse problem
  • Has a family member with depression, anxiety or bipolar mood disorder
  • Has a family member with mental health disorder associated with personality difficulties.
  • (Examples of personality problems are: borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder)

Can You Die From Spice?

Individuals have been reported to die from using spice.

In 2018, Spice was on 60 deaths certificates in England and Wales [8].

There have been 27 cases of deaths due to Spice overdose between 2015 to 2016 [9].

Recently, nine minor age individuals collapsed after inhaling Spice through vaping [8].

Can K2 Cause Permanent Psychosis?

Using spice could trigger acute psychosis, not permanent psychosis [10]:

Acute psychosis lasts for a short time, progresses quickly and is obviously noticed.

Signs of acute psychosis are: [11]

  • Being awake, but in a “zombie-like” condition
  • Hallucinations -seeing, hearing, and noticing objects that are not really present; sometimes talking to persons who do not actually exist or are already deceased
  • Dissociation – feeling separated from one’s own body, “floating above my body”
  • Disorganised thinking or thoughts
  • Changes in mood and behaviour, especially hyperactive thoughts
  • Persecutory delusions “someone is out to get me”
  • Delusions of reference “the person in TV is talking to me”; “they are always gossiping about me”
  • Delusion of grandeur – feeling exceptionally wealthy, strong, powerful etc. without factual evidence
  • Sexual delusions – including beliefs that s/he is being sexually pursued even by persons they do know personally
  • Fantastic delusions –  common themes are science fiction, religion, and supernatural phenomena

In the US, “spiceophrenia”  was a term created by Addiction Specialists to describe how Spice-induced psychosis is similar to schizophrenia, a psychiatric disorder.

The populations most affected by Spice misuse are teenagers and young adults [11].

Research has shown that using “regular cannabis” in adolescence is likely to increase the risk of risk of psychosis in individuals [4].

It could be argued that this risk of psychosis in adult life is magnified by the usage of synthetic cannabinoids like Spice.

Aside from psychosis, individuals under the age of 21 who use cannabis and Spice are a high risk for long term cognitive impairments (brain function damage).

The damage is potentially irreversible and could mean:  [12]

  • problematic decision-making skills
  • tendency to take inappropriate risks
  • impulsivity
  • difficulty remembering information presented (working memory damage)

Does K2 Have Withdrawal Symptoms?

K2 or Spice has withdrawal symptoms. These behaviours are most severe when individuals try to quit Spice on their own (or “quitting cold turkey”) [4].

These withdrawal symptoms mean that a person trying to stop Spice use will express how awful s/he is without using Spice.

Sometimes, the person will continue using Spice “just to feel normal”.

Spice withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • diarrhoea
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • anxiety and restlessness
  • depression
  • chest pain
  • problems breathing
  • fast heart beat
  • hypertension
  • excessive sweating
  • aches and pains all over the body
  • having difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • hypertension
  • headaches or migraines

The most intense period for Spice withdrawal is the first week [4].

After one week, symptoms usually taper off.

However, if a person has been using Spice for a prolonged period of time, the effects can last for up to a month.

There is a risk of complications when withdrawing from Spice, especially when it is done without professional help.

The safest recourse would be to use a supervised detox facility for Spice withdrawal.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice) Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cannabinoids-k2spice
  2.  BBC. (2016, 26 May ). Legal highs ban comes into force across the UK. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-36384729
  3. Barnes, T. (2018, 29 August). Spice should be upgraded to Class A drug, say police and crime commissioners. The Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/spice-class-a-drug-classification-police-commissioners-legal-highs-effects-law-britain-a8513681.html
  4. Spaderna, M., Addy, P. H. & D’Souza, D C. (2014). Spicing things up: Synthetic cannabinoids. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 228(4), 525–540.  Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3799955/#R9
  5.  National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice). Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cannabinoids-k2spice
  6. Huestis, M. (2007). Human Cannabinoid Pharmacokinetics. Chemistry & Biodiversity, 4(8), 1770–1804.  Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2689518/
  7.  Lovett, C. Wood, D. M. & Dargan, P. I. (2015). Pharmacology and Toxicology of the Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists. Available at: https://www.srlf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/1509-Reanimation-Vol24-N5-p527_541.pdf
  8.  Byrne, P. (2019, August 18). Spice crisis deepens as 9 kids collapse after taking zombie drug and deaths surge. Mirror.co.uk. Available at: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/spice-crisis-deepens-deaths-surge-18960424
  9. Financial Times. (2019, January 10). UK to reconsider classification of synthetic drug spice. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/c1be11c8-d83d-11e8-a854-33d6f82e62f8
  10. Papanti et al. (2013). “Spiceophrenia”: a systematic overview of “spice”-related psychopathological issues and a case report. Human Psychophramacology, 28(4), 379-89. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23881886
  11. Kulhalli, V. Isaac, M. & Murthy, P. (2007). Cannabis-related psychosis: Presentation and effect of abstinence. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 49(4), 256–261. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2910348/
  12. Patel, J. & Marwaha, R. (2019).Cannabis Use Disorder. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538131/

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About the author

Melany Heger

Registered Psychologist and Freelance Writer, Jinjin Melany passionately writes about mental health issues, addiction, eating disorders and parenting since 2015. Read more about Melany on LinkedIn. Content reviewed byPeter Szczepanski (Clinical Lead).