How does Spice work?

Spice works by affecting the brain, mimicking the effects of THC. More on Spice’s uses, side effects, and dangers here.

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Spice is a combination of plant products sprayed with chemicals called “synthetic cannabinoids” which mimic the effects of marijuana on the body.  But people getting high on Spice incense risk cardiovascular events, hallucinations, addiction or death.  In fact, Spice addictive potential can be high, especially if you have a history of past drug use.

Here, we review how Spice affects the body and brain. And we answer some other questions for you such as: Does Spice have the same effects for everyone? What are the dangers and side effects of Spice use? And is Spice addictive? We invite your additional questions about Spice and how it works at the end.

How does Spice work in the body?

No one’s completely sure how Spice works in the body, since Spice is a relatively new drug. Spice usually consists of shredded plants sprayed with chemical compounds meant to mimic the “high” of marijuana’s active ingredients, THC. These chemicals, called synthetic cannabinoids, seem to work as cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1 receptor) agonists, and their principle action is on the central nervous system. Some of these chemicals are reported to be 66-800 times more potent than THC. The most common synthetics (known) include:

  1. AM – 694
  2. CP – 47,497
  3. CP – 47,497-C8
  4. HU-210
  5. JWH – 015
  6. JWH – 018
  7. JWH – 019
  8. JWH – 073
  9. JWH – 122
  10. JWH – 200
  11. JWH – 250
  12. JWH – 398

Can Spice show up on drug tests?  Yes, if the test is specifically searching for the compounds present in Spice.  However, no one can know exactly what’s in each individual batch of Spice. Because there are over 100 types of synthetic cannaboids on the market, the chemical compunds have very different effects each time they are taken. The physical effects of Spice on the body include:

  • elevated blood pressure
  • non-responsiveness
  • seizures
  • tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
  • vomiting

How does Spice affect the brain and nervous system?

Synthetic cannabinoids are thought to work as full cannabinoid agonists. Spice ingredients have

an affinity for the CB1 receptors and the effects of these synthetic chemicals are many times greater than the effects of THC. The side effects of Spice on the brain and nervous system are usually unpleasant and can sometimes be very dangerous. Emergency departments across the US are seeing a rise in Spice-related visits. Even if you don’t overdose on Spice, the mental effects of Spice can be terrifying. Some of the psychological effects of Spice include:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • hallucinations (can be very intense)
  • panic attacks
  • paranoia
  • psychotic episodes
  • suicidal tendencies

How fast does Spice work?

Spice works fairly quickly when smoked. The effects begin within 5-10 minutes of taking the drug. Synthetic cannabinoids reaches peak levels in the blood within 10-45 minutes. However, it’s unclear how long Spice stays in the body after being taken.

How long does Spice work?

The effects of Spice can last from three to five hours. But some varieties of Spice don’t work for more than a couple of hours, since the effects start to drop off within 45 minutes. However, the half-life of synthetic cannabinoids is often slightly longer than that of THC, creating a longer-lasting high than marijuana.

What makes Spice work better?

Spice is normally taken rolled in cigarette paper (sometimes mixed with tobacco), or smoked out of a pipe. It’s often labeled as “incense” and marked “not for human consumption” – and with good reason, given the variety of potential side effects. Spice is also sometimes taken brewed as a tea, which will have a slower and milder onset of effects.

Does Spice work for everyone?

No, Spice is not right for everyone. In fact, Spice is not right for anyone.

Because so little is known about Spice, smoking Spice can be much more dangerous than taking a drug with more research behind it. While it’s sometimes marketed as being a “legal” alternative to weed, this isn’t true – many states and the U.S. military have made certain compounds illegal (Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act) and there are current federal restrictions on their use. While some people recommend taking Spice to avoid a positive drug test, it’s not a foolproof strategy. New drug tests are increasingly looking for the synthetic cannaboids found in Spice and similar products.

How Spice works questions

Do you still have questions about how Spice works in the body or brain? Please leave us your questions about Spice below. We will be happy to respond to your questions with a personal and prompt reply, or to refer you to someone who can help.

Reference Sources: Synthetic Drugs in Iowa: Get the Facts
National Institute on Drug Abuse: InfoFacts: Spice
Drug Enforcement Agency: Drug Fact Sheet: K2 or Spice
NIDA for Teens: “Spice” – Not as fun as it sounds
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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