‘Spice’ and ‘K2’: New drugs
of abuse now on the market
Synthetic cannabinoids popularly marketed as “K2” and
“Spice” are widely available at gas stations and convenience
stores in many states, yet addictions researchers know almost
nothing about the long-term consequences of using these
drugs, according to Ryan Vandrey, PhD, a marijuana researcher
at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The products are commonly marketed as incense and
labeled “not for human consumption” on the packaging,
but buyers smoke the products like marijuana, Vandrey said
during a presentation at APA’s 2011 Annual Convention.
The drugs are made by spraying synthetic cannabinoids
on ground-up plant material. Spice and K2 are the most
popular brands, but dozens more are on the market, he said.
“These products are used as an alternative to smoking
marijuana, especially among people subject to routine drug
testing,” Vandrey said.
In one clue to the substance’s increasing prevalence,
poison control centers reported 13 calls referencing the
products in 2009. In the first seven months of this year, that
number had already reached 3,787, he said.
“Is overdose more likely with these substances, or are
they more dangerous than marijuana? We really don’t
know,” he said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration listed five
synthetic cannabinoid compounds commonly used in
these drugs on the federal schedule of controlled dangerous
substances in March, but manufacturers continue
marketing the product using synthetic cannabinoid
variations not yet scheduled by the DEA, he said.
In an online survey Vandrey conducted, published online
in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence in August, he
found that 87 percent of 168 users reported they obtained
the drug legally, through gas stations, head shops and
convenience stores; just 2 percent said they got it illicitly by
going to a drug dealer who sells other illegal drugs such as
marijuana, cocaine and heroin. About 15 percent reported
using the substance daily and 12 percent of respondents
met the dependence criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), he said. Regular
users reported an average of 67 uses in the past year, he said.
While some states have banned K2 and Spice, users can
also order the products online. Some online suppliers will
not ship the products to buyers in states that have banned
the products, while others will, Vandrey said.
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