Also known as: “K2,” “fake weed,” “Bliss,” “Black Mamba,” “Bombay Blue,” “Genie,” “Zohai,” “Yucatan Fire,” “Skunk,” and “Moon Rocks”
Spice is a mix of herbs (shredded plant material) and manmade chemicals with mind-altering effects. It is often called “synthetic marijuana” because some of the chemicals in it are similar to ones in marijuana; but its effects are sometimes very different from marijuana, and frequently much stronger.
Labeled “Not for Human Consumption” and disguised as incense, Spice has been available for purchase in head shops (stores that sell drug-related products), gas stations, and online.
Because the chemicals used in Spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration has made the five active chemicals most frequently found in Spice illegal. However, the people who make these products try to avoid these laws by using different chemicals in their mixtures.
Sellers of Spice products try to lead people to believe they are “natural” and therefore harmless, but they are neither.
Most people smoke Spice by rolling it in papers (like with marijuana or handmade tobacco cigarettes); sometimes, it is mixed with marijuana. Some users also make it as an herbal tea for drinking.
Some Spice users report feeling relaxed and having mild changes in perception. Users also report extreme anxiety, feeling like someone is out to get them (paranoia), and seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations).
Spice is a new drug so there is not much research on how it affects the brain. We do know that the chemicals found in Spice attach to the same nerve cell receptors as THC, the main mind-altering ingredient in marijuana. Some of the chemicals in Spice, however, attach to those receptors more strongly, which could lead to a much stronger and more unpredictable effect. We still don’t know what many of the products sold as Spice are actually made of, and therefore we can’t be sure how the chemicals in Spice will harm the user.
Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs.
In 2011, Spice was mentioned by patients in the emergency room 28,531 times. This is a drastic increase over the 11,406 mentions in 2010.1 People who have had bad reactions to Spice report symptoms like a fast heart rate, throwing up, feeling nervous, feeling confused, and hallucinations. Spice can also raise blood pressure and cause less blood to flow to the heart. In a few cases, it has been linked with heart attacks and death. People who use Spice a lot may have withdrawal and addiction symptoms.
We still do not know all the ways Spice may affect a person’s health or how toxic it may be, but it is possible that there may be harmful heavy metal residues in Spice mixtures.
1Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. Rockville, MD, May 2013. Available at: http://media.samhsa.gov/data/2k13/DAWN2k11ED/DAWN2k11ED.htm.
People who use Spice a lot may have withdrawal and addiction symptoms. This means they can’t stop using it even when they really want to and even after it causes terrible consequences to their health and other parts of their lives.
Spice is the second-most popular illegal drug used by high school seniors (marijuana is the first). Easy access and the misperception that Spice is “natural” and safe have likely contributed to these high rates of use.
Past-Year Use of Illicit Drugs by High School Seniors (percent)
For more statistics on teen drug use, see NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study.
If you or a friend are in crisis and need to speak with someone now, please call:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don't just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by).
If you need information on treatment and where you can find it, you can call:
- Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator at 1-800-662-HELP or visit www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov.
For more information on how to help a friend or loved one, visit our Have a Drug Problem, Need Help? page.
Statistics and Trends
Monitoring the Future (University of Michigan):
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: