Spice Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, Withdrawal, Detox, and Rehab 

By The Fix staff 01/21/15

Spice Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, Withdrawal, Detox, and Rehab 

Spice Addiction

“Spice” is a street term that refers to a mixture of herbs that produces effects similar to those of marijuana. It is very popular among teenagers. There is not just one herbal mixture called Spice, but many––and that is just one of the significant problems with the drug. This drug contains plant or herbal material that has been dried and shredded as well as various chemical additives that create psychoactive effects for the user. Some of the names Spice is sold under include:

  • Skunk
  • K2
  • Moon Rocks
  • Yucatan Fire
  • Fake Weed

The National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that Spice is often falsely labeled with statements that it contains “natural” psychoactive plant material. While plant material does comprise part of the makeup of Spice, chemical analysis reveals that plants are not the active ingredients but, in fact, that the active ingredients in Spice are synthetic––also referred to as designer cannabinoid compounds.

Traditionally, Spice has been available for anyone to purchase in gas stations, head shops, and on web sites. However, since the chemicals that provide Spice with its marijuana-like quality are highly addictive, have a high risk of abuse, and do not provide any medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) identified the five most frequent active chemicals in Spice and made them Schedule I drugs. This means that it is illegal to possess, buy, or sell them. Spice manufacturers have found ways to get around the legal restrictions and substitute the illegal chemicals for ones that are currently legal. Most of these chemicals are not safe for use in the human body.

Spice is available in various forms. Some forms are sold as incense but are closer in appearance to potpourri. It may also be prepared as an herbal infusion and consumed orally. The most popular way that Spice is abused, though, is by smoking. It may be smoked alone or can be combined with marijuana.

How Spice Works in the Body and Brain

People who use Spice compare its effects to those of marijuana. The user experiences relaxation, an elevated mood, and an altered perception. However, sometimes the effects are much stronger––and more unsettling. Psychotic effects such as paranoia, extreme anxiety, and hallucinations have been reported. The real problem is that there is no way for the user to know just what chemicals are in the drug and how those chemicals will affect their brain and body.

At this time, there has been no significant research or scientific studies that examine the effects of Spice on the human brain. What is known is that the cannabinoid compounds that are found in Spice affect the same cell receptors as marijuana’s primary psychoactive component, THC. The alarming side of Spice, though, is that some of its compounds actually have a stronger bond to the receptors. This can create effects far more powerful than those of marijuana­­––and more unpredictable. Since the chemical composition of the majority of Spice products is unknown, some varieties of the drug have the potential to affect the user in dramatically different or stronger ways than they might expect.

Spice addiction side effects can be a significant problem. These side effects include:

  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Hallucinations
  • Myocardial ischemia, or reduced blood supply to the heart
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack

Again, the uncertain nature of the chemical compounds in Spice make it difficult to determine all of its effects on the human body. Some concerns are that Spice mixtures may contain heavy metal residue, an extremely harmful substance.

Several public interest groups and families who have dealt with Spice addiction have launched campaigns to raise public awareness of Spice and the significant dangers it presents.

Who is at Risk for Addiction?

There is a common misconception that Spice is not addictive and that it is safe to use, but the uncertain compounds of Spice make it dangerous. The chemicals can react in a variety of different ways when they hit a person’s system. Because of the different types of chemicals that are used, it can be extremely difficult to identify addiction.

Spice addiction risk factors include:

  • Age – Spice is very popular among teens
  • Environment – peer pressure can be a significant factor in drug abuse of any kind, but the availability of Spice makes it even easier. Parents should pay attention to who their children are spending their time with, whether family or friends
  • Social awkwardness – many teens are socially awkward and use substances to compensate. Again, Spice’s ease of availability makes it an easy choice
  • Genetics - the tendency to abuse drugs often runs in families
  • Self-image – a person with a poor self-image may use drugs to make them feel better about themselves
  • Mental illness – mental illness often provides a fertile ground for drug abuse and addiction
  • Stress – stress is often a gateway for many types of addictions since drugs often create an escape

Dangers of Spice Addiction

The danger of Spice addiction and overdose is a very real threat because of the way the chemicals react in the body. For instance, since the body stores the chemical compound K2 for a long time,, the dosage becomes stronger each time a Spice is ingested, since a user piles more into their system. The dosage gets larger and larger while the effects get stronger and more unpredictable–– or even lethal. A person taking the drug may experience Spice addiction side effects such as:

  • Severe headaches (especially with repeated use)
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • High heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Suppressed respiration
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Unconsciousness
  • Violent behavior
  • Seizures
  • Changes to perception that can be dangerous

Signs of Spice Addiction

Spice addiction can be very difficult to pinpoint based on behavior because different chemicals affect different users in different ways. That parent who is trying to determine if their child is using Spice or has a problem will probably need to be a little more of a detective. The powers of observation can be extremely useful in this situation. Signs that a person may be addicted to Spice include:

  • Becoming obsessed with obtaining and taking Spice
  • Extreme sleepiness or grogginess much of the time, making potential users difficult to rouse
  • Mixing Spice with other drugs to get an increased high
  • Refusing to do anything but smoke Spice

Teen users say that Spice is the "new crack" and this is not to be taken lightly. Spice is dangerous and parents should be alert and aware. Parents should look for these signs of Spice addiction in their teen:

  • Smell – Some Spice smells like regular marijuana, but it often has a chemical smell when smoked. Some people have compared it to a faint odor of electrical or plastic burning, or describe it as sweet or the scent of cleaning chemicals mixed with smoke.
  • Behavior – Heavy sedation is one of the most common behaviors reported, but parents may also observe violence, paranoia, behavior problems, apathy, and hallucinations.
  • Attitude – The Spice addict may be apathetic with no apparent desire to do anything but smoke. They may sit in their room for hours, smoking and sleeping. They often have no ambition, no desire to have a job or go to school, and will withdraw from family.
  • Friends – Often friends are the ones who introduce a child to drugs. If a parent suspects their child’s friends are using, they can reasonably expect that their child is, at the very least, being exposed to drugs or offered them.
  • Any sudden changes in behavior or attitude should be investigated––always.

A person who displays any of these signs, even if it is just one or two, may be addicted to Spice or at risk of becoming addicted. They should receive medical help as soon as possible.

Spice Addiction Withdrawal

Just as a person can become addicted to Spice, regardless of what other users say, a Spice addict will often experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop smoking the drug for an extended period of time. In fact, some addicts report experiencing Spice addiction withdrawal symptoms just a few hours after smoking the drug. The more addicted a person is, the worse the withdrawal will be.

Withdrawal occurs because the brain becomes dependent on drugs to stimulate reward sensors and has ceased producing the natural chemicals, called endorphins, on its own. The brain craves the drug and transfers that craving to the body.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Intense cravings
  • Tremors
  • Palpitations
  • Nightmares
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Confusion
  • Extreme sweating
  • Paranoia
  • Loss of motivation
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to sleep
  • Apathy for consequences of behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

In some cases, the addict can experience high blood pressure, reduced blood supply to the heart, and heart attack when going through withdrawal. Using Spice in the long term can cause damage to the respiratory system and has been linked to schizophrenia and psychotic episodes.

Withdrawal can be very difficult for a Spice addict. It is recommended that they do not attempt to do it on their own. Getting into a Spice addiction rehab program can help them detox and begin the road to recovery.

Many times Spice overdose is not caught by medical personnel because the drug is not in the panel that most hospitals and drug tests use to determine what a person is taking. Symptoms of Spice overdose include:

  • Significant decrease in respiratory rate or respiratory depression
  • Extreme sleepiness, which progresses to stupor or coma
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Hypotension or low blood pressure
  • Apnea
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Circulatory collapse
  • Seizures
  • Death

Immediate medical treatment is required for anyone who has overdosed on Spice. 

Spice Addiction Detox and Rehab

There are rehab treatment programs available for people who want to end their Spice addiction, offering a choice between inpatient or outpatient services. As an inpatient, the addict will check into the Spice addiction rehab facility where they will go through detox and then receive support and therapy for recovery. As an outpatient, the addict will be required to visit the center at certain times for various activities including counseling, group therapy, and other supportive activities.

Inpatient rehab is often strongly encouraged because the addict is trained by medical personnel who understand addiction and can help ease some of the symptoms of withdrawal during the detox period. The inpatient option also ensures that temptation is kept in check since the addict will not be exposed to the substance or the environment that made the drug available and attractive, in the first place.

Recovery from Spice addiction is possible. There is hope for recovery. Addiction does not have to be a life sentence.

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