Street names: Fake Weed, K2, Skunk

Revised May 2019

What is Spice?

Packages of the drug SpicePhoto by DEA

Also known as: Black Mamba, Bliss, Bombay Blue, Fake Weed, Genie, K2, Skunk, Yucatan Fire, and Zohai

Spice is a mix of herbs (shredded plant material) and laboratory-made chemicals with mind-altering effects. It is often called “synthetic marijuana” or "fake weed" because some of the chemicals in it are similar to ones in marijuana. But, its effects are sometimes very different from marijuana, and often much stronger. Usually the chemicals are sprayed onto plant materials to make them look like marijuana. 

Because the chemicals used in Spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration has made many of the active chemicals  found in Spice illegal. However, the people who make these products try to avoid these laws by using different chemicals in their mixtures.

Spice is most often labeled "not for human consumption" and disguised as incense. Sellers of the drug try to lead people to believe it is “natural” and therefore harmless, but it is neither. In fact, the actual effects of spice can be unpredictable and, in some cases, severe or cause death.

How Spice is Used

Most people smoke Spice by rolling it in papers (like with marijuana or handmade tobacco cigarettes); sometimes, it is mixed with marijuana. Some people also make it as an herbal tea for drinking. Others buy Spice products as liquids to use in e-cigarettes. 

What happens to your brain when you use Spice?

Spice has only been around a few years, and research is only just beginning to measure how it affects the brain. What is known is 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 than THC, which could lead to much stronger effects. The resulting health effects can be unpredictable and dangerous. Additionally, there are many chemicals that remain unidentified in products sold as Spice and it is therefore not clear how they may affect the user. It is important to remember that chemicals are often being changed as the makers of Spice often alter them to avoid drug laws, which have to target certain chemicals.

Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs.

What happens to your body when you use Spice?

Short-Term Effects

People who use synthetic cannabinoid report some effects similar to those produced by marijuana:

  • relaxation
  • elevated mood
  • altered perception (changes in awareness of objects and conditions)
  • psychosis (feeling detached from reality)

People who have had bad reactions to Spice report symptoms like:

  • fast heart rate
  • throwing up
  • extreme anxiety or nervousness
  • hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • feeling confused
  • violent behavior
  • suicidal thoughts

In a few cases, it has been linked with heart attacks and death.

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.

Infographic about Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice)

(View more on NIDA)

Can you overdose or die if you use Spice?

Yes. Spice use has been linked to a rising number of emergency department visits and to some deaths. Learn more about drug overdoses in youth.

Is Spice addictive?

Yes, Spice can be addictive. People who use Spice a lot may have withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit. 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. Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • irritability

How many teens use Spice?

Twelfth graders were first asked about past year use of Spice in 2011. Annual use was found to be 11%, making synthetic marijuana the second most widely used class of illicit drug after marijuana among 12th graders. By 2013, use of synthetic marijuana had dropped in all three grades. These declines continued through 2018 among 8th graders but halted in 2017 among 12th graders and in 2018 among 10th graders. Below is a chart showing the percentage of teens who use Spice.

Swipe left or right to scroll.

Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of K2/Spice (Synthetic Marijuana) for 8th Graders, 10th Graders, and 12th Graders; 2018 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period 8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
K2/Spice (Synthetic Marijuana) Past Year 1.60 2.90 3.50

For more statistics on teen drug use, see NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study.

What should I do if someone I know needs help?

If you, or a friend, are in crisis and need to speak with someone now: 

  • Call the 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 want to help a friend, you can:

If a friend is using drugs, you might have to step away from the friendship for a while. It is important to protect your own mental health and not put yourself in situations where drugs are being used.

For more information on how to help a friend or loved one, visit our Have a Drug Problem, Need Help? page.

Where can I get more information?

Drug Facts

NIDA Resources:

Other Resources:

Educator Resources:

Statistics and Trends

NIDA Resources:   

Educator Resources:   

Blog Posts

Chat Day Transcripts


See text description below

Drug and Alcohol Use in College-Age Adults in 2017

Published: September 05, 2018
The 2017 Monitoring the Future College Students and Young Adults survey shows trends in the use of marijuana, alcohol, nicotine, and synthetic drugs in college students and non-college peers.
See below for text description

Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice) Unpredictable Danger

Published: October 05, 2017
This infographic shows that synthetic cannabinoids, like K2 or Spice, are not natural drugs and can lead to dangerous health effects.
See below for text description

Drug and Alcohol Use in College-Age Adults in 2015

Published: November 03, 2016
The 2015 Monitoring the Future College Students and Adults survey shows trends in the use of alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, cocaine, and other drugs in college students and non-college peers.
See text description below

Monitoring the Future 2015 Survey Results

Published: December 16, 2015
NIH’s 2015 Monitoring the Future survey shows long term decline in illicit drug use, prescription opioid abuse, cigarette and alcohol use among the nation’s youth.
Infographic - see text below for description

Synthetic Marijuana Lands Thousands of Young People in the ER, Especially Young Males

Published: February 26, 2013
By gender, 14% of male and 8% of female high school seniors abused synthetic marijuana.
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