In the early 2000’s, headshops found a loophole in drug laws and started selling synthetic marijuana, a product more commonly known as K2 Spice. This synthetic drug is often marketed as herbal incense and labeled as containing all-natural herbal ingredients.
This isn’t exactly true – while the herbs are natural, it was originally coated with a synthetic compound developed by pharmaceutical company Pfizer, called Cannabicyclohexanol (CCH, CP 47,497 dimethyloctyl homologue, (C8)-CP 47,497). Since then, the active ingredient has been altered several times, making spice a dangerous designer drug.
Spice was sold in headshops and gas stations across the country during the prohibition of cannabis, and, due to its reputation as a synthetic cannabis, it attracted many users that couldn’t get a hold of the real thing.
Spice is nothing like cannabis, however, providing none of the medical benefits, a completely different (and unpredictable) high, and the possibility of overdose.
Legal Gray Areas
The Drug Enforcement Agency is often behind the curve, still classifying cannabis as a Schedule I drug, making it as dangerous as heroin, cocaine, etc., in the agency’s eyes. It wasn’t until 2012 (nearly a full decade after the drug spread across the country) that spice was classified as a Schedule I drug and made illegal.
Prior to this, several states baned the sale of the substance, leading home-chemists to skirt the law by altering the chemical compound, creating new synthetic cannabinoids, including JWH-018, JWH-073, AM-2201, and HU-210.
Each of these active ingredients differs only slightly in chemical makeup, though any chemist will tell you this can make a huge difference.
A Dangerous Chemistry Lesson
Despite its illegal status, the chemicals to make K2 spice are easily obtainable online, either through Chinese companies on the regular Internet or black markets only accessible through the deep web. Ten grams of the above chemicals can be obtained for $200 or less, enough to make up to three pounds of spice.
The herb most commonly used as a base in retail spice is marshmallow leaf, a pound of which can be obtained for $10-$20 on Amazon. Marshmallow leaf should not be confused for marshmallow root, which will be much more woody and produce a very harsh smoke.
Acetone and a microscoop are used to measure out and dissolve the active spice ingredient so it can be sprayed on the marshmallow leaf. Once the acetone is evaporated, the herb can be smoked. Often people then add tobacco flavoring to produce the wide variety of flavors found in smoke shops.
Warnings About Synthetic Cannabis
Though labeled as synthetic THC, the chemical compounds used in K2 spice are nothing like the THC found in marijuana. In addition, it only focuses on that one compound, ignoring the CBD and other terpines found in naturally grown cannabis.
Smoking spice does not produce a high anything close to what cannabis produces. Spice gives a head rush that’s often accompanied by loss of body movement, especially in extremities like your arms and legs. It lasts for 10 to 30 minutes max, and then the euphoria fades and is replaced with a hungover feeling.
One batch of spice can greatly differ from the next, and inconsistencies even exist within the same batch, as the drug is often created in garages and homes. Much like other designer drugs like ecstasy and methamphetamine, the lack of quality control means you’ll never know what active ingredient is being used, nor the levels and purity.
Smoking spice while still wet means you’ll be smoking acetone, which can have immediate adverse affects, such as loss of voice or death. Even with the acetone completely evaporated, the risk associated with smoking spice is high.
Many reported deaths have been attributed to spice, and the addictive nature is as well documented as the psychotic episodes caused by usage of the drug. None of these issues exist with cannabis.
If you choose to smoke spice, there’s nothing I can do to stop you, but understand that it is nothing like cannabis. Calling it synthetic cannabis is a misnomer, as it’s more akin to other synthetic drugs. If you’re a pothead looking to get stoned, spice is nothing close to an alternative to weed.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has been featured on Huffington Post, The Street, Fast Company, BBC, Hardcore Droid, and Cannabis Now.