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Spice (Synthetic Marijuana)

What Is Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana is a mixture of dried plant materials that have been laced with chemical additives. Known as Spice, K2, or by such brand names as Black Mamba, Relax, Scooby Snax, Cloud 9, Yucatan Fire, and Blaze, the drug is often packaged as “incense” or “potpourri” in colorful shiny packets. Packages commonly are labeled “not for human consumption” to bypass U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.

Importantly, Spice, which is usually smoked, is not a “natural” product. It contains no marijuana and no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. Spice is designed to create a marijuana-like high, but because laws ban a long and growing list of THC-like compounds, its producers resort to increasingly altered chemicals of unknown potency and purity. As a result, synthetic weed is a dangerous product.

In 2011, synthetic marijuana was linked to 28,531 emergency room visits

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana

When smoked, Spice can create a sense of altered perception, elevated mood, and sense of relaxation. It can also trigger extreme anxiety, agitation, confusion, paranoia, hostility, and episodes of psychosis with suicidal thoughts or action.

Physical effects can include slowed responsiveness, difficulty speaking, excessive sweating, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, racing heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, muscle spasms, seizures, acute kidney damage, and stroke. Spice can be addictive, and regular users can suffer withdrawal symptoms when they discontinue their drug use.

In 2011, synthetic marijuana was linked to 28,531 emergency room visits, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), and the drug has led to a number of deaths. However, because of its availability and mistaken reputation as a “natural” substance, most users don’t realize its danger. In 2012, it was the second most widely used class of illicit drug after marijuana among 12th graders. Forty states have banned Spice, but it is still available online and in smoke shops. Spice cannot be detected by some drug screening tests.

Signs that Someone Needs Treatment for Synthetic Marijuana

Here are questions to ask if you’re concerned that you or someone you love—a spouse, child, parent, or friend—may have a problem with synthetic marijuana.

  • Do they often appear “zoned out” or, at the other extreme, in a state of paranoia or panic?
  • Have they lost motivation or the ability to concentrate?
  • Are they regularly going to smoke shops or receiving small packages in the mail?
  • Is there frequently a chemical smell in the air, which may have a sweet berry or mint scent?
  • Do they feel they need to smoke the drug in order to feel good or have a good time?
  • Have they ever experienced withdrawal symptoms when they tried to stop?
  • Have they ever tried to quit but couldn’t?

If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, you or your loved one may have a problem. If the answer is “yes” to two or more questions, it is highly likely that a problem exists.


Treatment for synthetic marijuana use is individualized, based on personal needs such as whether someone has a co-occurring substance abuse problem. In some cases, individuals may benefit from withdrawal management and stabilization (“detox”) services. Phoenix House treats the whole person, and grounds its interventions in evidence-based practices. We offer both individual and group therapy, and target the underlying causes of addiction. We also offer ongoing support to help clients successfully maintain recovery.


“I started buying synthetic marijuana. By the end I was stoned literally 24 hours a day, getting high every half hour around the clock.”

Steve, Phoenix House Alum

Read my story

We Can Help

If you are concerned about a synthetic marijuana problem, our caring and compassionate staff members can offer a confidential evaluation. Once an evaluation is completed, they can also help plan the best course of action. Phoenix House offers safe, affordable treatment in a variety of locations. We are here to help you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call us anytime.