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Drugs & Health Blog

Why Be a Zombie?—Spice and Health Risks

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.

Image courtesy of Coolidge Youth Coalition

The NIDA Blog Team

We’ve noted before that one of the disturbing things about Spice (also known as K2, “fake weed,” “Bliss,” etc.) is that you can never know what’s in it. Spice isn’t really “fake marijuana”; it’s a combination of chemicals sprayed onto a leaf to make you feel like you are using real marijuana.  Even when two envelopes of Spice look exactly alike—same graphics, same words—the ingredients in one envelope can be completely different from the ingredients in the other.

That means if you use Spice, you don’t know what you’re putting into your body. What’s even more disturbing than that is what those unknown ingredients can do once they get inside a person.

More ER visits, and worse

K2/Zombie DC, a new information campaign in Washington, D.C., has lots of information about the risks of using “fake weed.” Judging from recent statistics, those risks are growing.

Using Spice is being linked to more health problems, and some of those problems are more serious than in the past. It isn’t news that Spice can be dangerous, but in 2015 so far, emergency room visits have increased dramatically by people who have used it. In Alabama, there were 400 ER visits related to using Spice in one month, and two of those Spice users died.

It’s happening in lots of places. Mississippi, New York, Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, and Texas have seen similar increases of Spice users “experiencing extreme anxiety, violent behavior and delusions, with some of the cases resulting in death.” In Louisiana, one person died and three wound up in intensive care; in New York, over 1,900 Spice-related ER visits [link removed; post no longer exists] took place from April through June; and in Washington, D.C., there were 439 overdoses from Spice just in June.

Also in June, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 15 deaths around the country resulted from Spice between January and May this year. That’s three times the number of deaths from Spice in the same period just a year ago.

Lots of unknowns—except for the risks

What’s behind the surge in Spice-related overdoses and deaths? Like so many things about Spice, it’s hard to say for sure. Some think it’s because more people are using the drug; others speculate that a new, dangerous batch of chemicals is being sprayed on plants sold as Spice.

Whatever the causes, officials are ramping up their attempts to combat the problem. Forty-three states have taken some action to control Spice.  Earlier this month, police chiefs from around the country called for tests to be developed that can help police to know quickly when someone is on Spice.

You can help spread the word about the dangers of Spice. With your help and through public education efforts like K2/Zombie DC, the disturbing statistics could go back down soon.

In the meantime, expect to see more campaigns like K2/Zombie DC in other cities. Let us know in the comments: what do you think of the Zombie campaign?

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.


It would probably be worth mentioning that the reason that the chemicals keep changing in these "spice" products is because the government keeps banning them. Every time they ban one of these, like the initial popular JW series, new variations are created. Of course if cannabis were legal these synthetic cannabinometics would never have been popular enough to bother manufacturing and marketing in the first place.
you are so cool
We need to move quick before it´s too late.
Sounds like you don't have enough information about "Spice" to actually pass reasoned judgment about it and in lieu of hard evidence you've launched a scare campaign backed up by manufactured statistics. I've seen this act before.
The Centers for Disease Control have published research papers on the adverse consequences of the smoking of these "Spice" products, clinical studies have been greatly reduced due to the adverse effects however reviews of the medical effects from hospital wards across the country have been tabulated and published, so you have no excuse -- assuming you have Internet -- to suggest these products are not adverse. Decriminalization of marijuana would put a stop to all of the violent, all of the State-performed fascist crimes against American citizens, and would reduce the equally violent crimes being committed against Americans by the Mexican cartels. Ah but then the fascist State's "war on drugs" would have to come to an end, police and other agencies across the country would no longer be able to justify their budgets, their jobs, or their fascist thug crimes against society if they were forced to end their "war on drugs" against us.
There are enough statistic but they instead use the same scare tactics that failed decades ago in pot prohibition... Quit calling it fake pot, or synthetic cannibinoids or synthetic marijuana and call it what it is... A bag of Damiana or Marshmallow leaf sprayed with god knows what chemicals...
The image of the boy turning into a zombie disturbs me because I feel it undermines the seriousness of this drug. If a kid can't take the graphic seriously, which is what is supposed to support the article most of the time, how can they take the article seriously. There is so much misinformation out there for teens...this website shouldn't be a source of fantasy too.
dr jonathan: spice manufacturers keep changing spices chemical components because of drug testing; the labs catch up, so then it gets changed. even if weed was legal, its not going to stop american's thirst for other drugs. this argument is as stupid as the one that says if drugs are legal drug cartels will disappear. so naive. mr h.: of course there isnt enough information on spice. its a new experimental drug that manufacturers continue to change the ingredients to. its difficult to study something like that. ms. candy: have you seen images that are used to sell spice? the cartoons and funny names? obvi people using spice dont care about what things look like to take it seriously. and if the education for kids out there is boring, they arent going to pay attention. how about you inform yourself on the millenial generation. please show up to this decade as it seems you dont understand youth of today.
You have it all wrong - the person that doesn't understand is you. True, legalizing pot won't stop demand for other drugs. But no one here said it would. It would, however, severely curtail demand for spice. As far as drug cartels, have you ever taken any kind of economics classes? When a product is made illegal, the market for that product is driven underground. When a product is legal, and not taxed discriminately, there is no underground market. Let me clue you in since you are so naive - cartels only operate underground - if they operated in the open market, you would call them "businesses".
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Fungus? really. THIS IS SPICE Go back to eating mushrooms
This will really open peoples eyes about this type of drug. I'm glad that people have uncovered some truth about Spice.
yea me too
this drug sounds crazy why ever do it.
Spice is very bad for you. I understand it is a new drug out on the street and first heard of it from my parents. The way it sounds makes it sound like its the worst drug out there. It is really bad for your body and anyone to do this is really dumb.
dont be a zombie
you stole my name bro
This blog has some very resourceful information about spice. I did not know that spice was so different from marijuana and that all of its ingredients and effects are unknown. Very scary.
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ok and
Simply decriminalizing marijuana would put an end to these health issues, but also get the illegal cultivations removed from our public forests -- which is something that concerns me the most. The few idiots who purchase and use this stuff suffer adverse consequences of their own actions whereas the illegal cultivation taking place on public lands across our nation is causing far greater damage to innocent people, to our habitats, to our watersheds. It is simply insane that the fascist State has classified the plant as dangerous when in fact it's the prohibition of the plant which is the root cause of all of the drug cartels' and the violent cops' endless crimes against American citizens, both innocent citizens as well as guilty. Decriminalize and it really will be a magic wand putting an end to all this violence and insanity.
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I'm a little confused as to why this product (along with the other variations of it) are being referred to as 'moon rocks' and 'skunk'. These are both completely separate products, one of which of course refers to the stronger hydroponically grown cannabis we see today, the other is a by-product of the same material, made by extracting the tetrahydracannabinol and creating a pure version of it. These legal highs should not be named in the same way as cannabis, as it provides misleading information to potential users or those seeking general information. Also in response to the above comments, I think it's naturally safe to assume that if cannabis was legalised, taxed and monitored, there simply would not be room for the underground markets that have been created as a direct result of its illegalisation. Secondly yes, I believe the desire to consume 'legal highs' has been exacerbated massively by the illegalisation of its safer, natural counterpart. We will never get rid of these experimental chemicals, without knowing what combination of chemical is due to hit the shelves next.