Spice Abuse Signs, Symptoms, Side Effects, and Addiction Treatment
What Is Spice?
“Spice” is a term commonly used to refer to a blend of dried plant material that is laced with a synthetic cannabinoid. It is also regularly referred to as “synthetic marijuana.” Other names include “K2,” “Moon Rocks,” and “Skunk.”
Synthetic cannabinoids encompass a large category of man-made substances that, while structurally diverse, all function similarly to THC—the active chemical responsible for the effects of cannabis. The primary effects of these compounds derive from their actions as cannabinoid receptor agonists in the brain.
Since its appearance on the market in the early 2000s, Spice has risen in popularity at an alarming rate. The pervasive misconception that products like Spice and K2 are safe, harmless, and even legal alternatives to marijuana have likely fueled their rise in popularity.
Signs and Symptoms of Spice Use
Symptoms of Spice abuse vary and can include physical and cognitive symptoms.
Physical Signs and Symptoms
Adverse effects of Spice use can include:
- Excessive sweating.
- Slurred speech.
- Greatly increased hunger or thirst.
Cognitive Signs and Symptoms
Synthetic marijuana products such as Spice and K2 often cause a disproportionate level of activity in the central nervous system compared with natural cannabis-derived molecules. This is associated with changes in the brain leading to increased risk of the psychiatric disorder schizophrenia, which has a range of symptoms, including:
- Increased anxiety.
- Disordered thinking.
Schizophrenic symptoms may precipitate abnormal, erratic, or even violent behavior. Some scientists believe that repeated or high-dose use of synthetic marijuana may lead to increased risk of the symptoms mentioned above. Studies have found that the use of Spice is indeed likely to be associated with increased risk of symptoms such as agitation and paranoia.
The use of Spice (and natural cannabinoids) is associated with other negative effects, including:
- Emotional ‘blunting’ (e.g. the absence of appropriate emotional responses).
- Reduction of co-ordination and responses to motor cues.
- Personality changes.
- Decreased or dysfunctional social interactions.
These drugs may also be associated with diminished cognitive functioning, including difficulties with:
- Short-term and working memory.
- The ability to process and apply complex concepts.
Spice (and THC) may also adversely affect attentional and decision-making processes.
Teen Spice Abuse
Spice is quite popular among adolescents and young adults. Estimates have suggested that its use is second only to marijuana use among high school seniors.
Ease of access and the belief that the drug is a safe alternative to marijuana are contributing factors to the drug’s popularity among this population.
Moreover, Spice may appear more attractive because it is not readily detected on standard drug tests.
If you suspect that your teen is abusing this drug, take the time to talk with them about the risks and potential long-term effects of Spice.
Spice Abuse Treatment Types
Treatment associated with the abuse of Spice includes medications and other therapies that address psychotic and other neurological symptoms. They may require long-term courses of treatment, particularly in the case of schizophrenia-related symptoms. Users may also face a cohort of withdrawal symptoms, which might include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Sleep disturbances.
An inpatient program that includes medically supervised detoxification (or treatment for withdrawal) will help the patient maintain as much comfort as possible through this process. Treatment types include:
- Inpatient or Residential Care, in which the patient lives at the facility for a specified period of time (typically 30 days–90 days) to focus on sobriety.
- Outpatient (more flexible) Care, which incorporates elements of inpatient rehab—including regular counseling, addiction education, and relapse prevention skills—but allows the patient to live at home.
Aftercare and Therapy
Patients seeking help for Spice abuse and/or dependence may also require support and continuing therapy after this initial treatment period ends. This is known as aftercare, and it is ideally maintained as a part of a patient’s life to enhance recovery and avoid a return to using Spice. Aftercare may come in the form of:
- Psychotherapy such as counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Contingency management (an incentive-based means of enhancing abstinence and recovery).
- Sober living resources or residential services.
The choice of therapy ultimately depends on the needs and preferences of the patient.
Find Spice Addiction Treatment Programs
Treatment can start anyone battling Spice addiction on the path to a healthier and happier life. Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S., and a variety of treatment types is available. You can use SAMHSA’s Find Treatment tool to search for facilities. Many state government websites will provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’
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