Drugs & Health Blog

Spice: "If You Use It, You're Experimenting on Yourself"

Sara Bellum

Ask NIDA scientist Marilyn A. Huestis, Ph.D., what she wants to tell young people about the synthetic (manmade) marijuana called Spice, and she responds with passion. In a recent interview with SBB, Dr. Huestis shared a news story about teens in Dallas who went to the ER with chest pains, only to learn that they had had heart attacks. All of them had recently smoked Spice.

Dr. Huestis said that dangerous health effects from Spice are possible because of the drug’s potency. “Using Spice is very dangerous because the chemicals and compounds that are in it vary from batch to batch. You might buy a package one week, go back to the same place and buy the exact same package the next week, and the ingredients may be completely different. Not only are the ingredients unknown, but so is the strength of the drug,” she said.

“Because its makeup varies so widely, studying Spice is a challenge,” said Dr. Huestis. “Essentially, if you use it, you’re experimenting on yourself.”

That experimentation could result in other life-threatening health complications. According to a recent news story out of Wyoming, three young people were hospitalized with kidney failure from using blueberry-flavored Spice. A dozen other people got sick. Everyone affected was in their late teens or early 20s.

Use Is Expanding

NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study asked teens about synthetic marijuana for the first time in the 2011 survey. What they found: Approximately 1 in every 10 high school seniors reported use in the past 12 months. Teens and young adults may be drawn to Spice because sometimes it comes in flavors.

Even though it’s illegal in the United States, Spice is still available in some truck stops and other places that market it as incense. Dr. Huestis said this is because manufacturers are constantly changing the ingredients to attempt to get around the bans. However, the United States does have an “analog law,” which bans drugs with chemistry and effects similar to illegal drugs.

“We’re learning more about Spice and how it works in the body and brain every day,” said Dr. Huestis. “Research is focusing on the body’s cannabinoid system, which regulates hunger, memory, and heart rate, among many other important functions. Spice and marijuana hijack this system.”

Read more about Spice.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


I was thinking about doing spice for then first time I'm only 13 though now that I read all these comments in having second thoughts about doing it, but I don't want to look like a wimp around my friends.

Only 13, you won't be a wimp for not doing drugs.  You'll be strong for standing up for yourself and making the decision that is right for you.  People that pressure you to do something are not comfortable with are not being very good friends.  Here's another article you should read about the dangers of spice: Spice is Not Fake Marijuana—Not Even Close.

I was suspicious that my son was using this stuff after reading some information a friend sent me [link removed, per comment guidelines]. Instead of going through his room when he wasn't home, I just decided to talk to him about it mano-a-mano like that site suggested. It turns out he was smoking spice, but he didn't even realize how dangerous it could be. He was really nervous when I confronted him, but by the end of the conversation we were eating ice cream and talking about my days in Highschool so all in all it ended up being a good bonding experience and we threw it in the garbage together (HIS idea...). I think EDUCATION is the name of the game, and teens.drugabuse.gov is doing a great job.
this is bad
@jim that was the right thing to do
Hey everyone, I am a 19 year old diabetic and got offered to try spice by some friends, at first I had no idea about the dangers of smoking it so I thought why not, it can't be that much different to weed but I was so wrong and even though I only smoked it a few times and haven't smoked it for days I have been getting bad headaches, keep vomiting, bad chest pains and difficulty breathing. I have also had very bad anxiety and sleeping problems and suicidal thoughts, could this be from spice? I'm very worried as my boyfriend still smokes it everyday and I'm worried about the effects it could have on him :c

Demi, you should see a doctor immediately.  We can't say for sure that the symptoms you are experiencing are the result of smoking Spice, nonetheless, you need to seek medical attention.  Once you feel better, you should talk to your boyfriend and tell him how dangerous Spice can be.  Using Spice can cause anxiety, paranoia, and halluncinations.  It can also cause heart attack, and even death. Check out these additional resources for more information.

Good luck!  We hope you feel better soon.

Thank you for replying to me, I have been to see several doctors and they have done tests and have said nothing is wrong with me, I still can't sleep properly and have anxiety still. But the vomiting has stopped.
I am a prison officer and daily exposed to passive inhalation of spice. I am left with headaches and nausea after each exposure. Is my long term health at risk?

That's a really good question, anon.  Unfortunately we don't know anything about the long- or short-term effects of secondhand Spice smoke. We recommend talking with your doctor about the headaches and nausea to make sure there is nothing else wrong. 

Today i smoked spice and as i was "high" i would think of something in particular then when iwould try and remember what i was thinking i cant. I think im going brain dead and would like tofind out if i really am . These past days i been smoking it and its so crazy it might sound crazy but it feels like there are levels and i keep leveling up and it felt like today was the last level i even caught myself scared . when that level thought popped into my head i gotsoscared i was like hell nah talking to myself cuz i felt like that was the end. This spice drug is very bad . I've had all symptoms . and lemme tell you it aint nice im17 years old and plan to quit before it gets to late but I would like to know if this whole time ive been smoking it if ive had any strokes or anything of that caliber . i know ive blacked out on this stuff beforebut iwant to know more. Im going to set upa doctors appt to check up . and i know damn well its not gonna be a good checkup
My brother, 32 years old died Aug. 5, 2017 from Spice. His body just stopped. It's very hard and sad

We are so sorry to hear of the loss of your brother. It is very sad. Drug use can have devastating consequences, and you are courageous to share your story. If you have not done so, we urge you to speak to a grief counselor or personal therapist to help you sort through your feelings. If you don’t know where to start, or fear that you can’t afford to get help, please explore the options on this site: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/


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