By Marguerite Arnold

Synthetic cannabis is commonly known as “Spice” or “K2.” Although many people seem to believe these drugs are “safe,” nothing could be further from the truth.

Spice and similar “synthetic cannabinoids” are chemical compounds that attach themselves to cannabinoid receptors. However, the similarities stop there. They act differently and are stronger than both natural cannabis and regulated medical cannabis isolates.

This is why these chemically concocted “cannabinoids” are extremely dangerous.

Synthetic cannabis no regulated dangerous


Synthetic cannabis is an illicit street and club drug. It has never been approved by any regulatory agency, anywhere.

Regulated synthetic cannabinoid medications include drugs like Marinol. Or Cesamet. Or Nabilone. These drugs use chemical compounds that perform the same job as THC. They have all been approved by regulatory agencies for that reason.

Spice, on the other hand, is something different. The chemicals within it act like cannabinoids, binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. However, they do not do the same thing as naturally occurring cannabinoids.

And herein lies their danger.

Synthetic cannabinoids actually work “better” on cannabinoid receptors than the real thing. In this context, they can be viewed as chemical cannabinoids on steroids. They do too much stimulating.

This is also precisely why the drug can produce such toxic effects.


Short answer? In a lab. With chemicals. That is all it is.

The long answer is a bit more involved than that. Synthetic cannabinoids are now commoditized. They are shipped illicitly in bulk into western countries from various parts of the world, including China. However, Spice can be made in any lab with a chemist who knows how to do it. Manufacturers then use acetone or solvents to transfer these chemical compounds onto plant-like material. It is kind of like a reverse extraction process.

This soaked plant-like material is then packaged and sold as a smokeable product.

K2 synthetic cannabis


Customers are exposed to a number of significant and persistent dangers.

The first is that the chemical batches can be deadly all by themselves. Any of the chemicals used in this process could be toxic once ingested. Or contaminated. Or both. The mixing processes can also be faulty. This includes the actual chemical concoctions of synth cannabinoids themselves. The transfer process to the plant material could also be improperly mixed or absorbed.

These drugs deliver mega doses to unsuspecting users. Further, the mega doses themselvesmay also contain synth cannabinoids too dangerous for human consumption in any amount.

In turn, this can cause extreme cannabinoid poisoning. This can induce nausea, blackouts, heart issues and even psychosis. The long-term health impacts also include renal failure.[1] In other words, K2 is linked to exclusively dangerous side effects. There have been many reports of deaths directly caused by Spice and K2 consumption.

Worse? The trend, which became noticeable in the early part of this decade, is only continuing to increase. Globally.


This may sound paranoid or conspiratorial, but carries more than a grain of truth.

Spice was actually a government-sponsored cannabinoid stimulation experiment that began in the 1980’s. In 1993, this got a little more complicated. A government and academic researcher at Clemson University named John Huffman published the formula for a compound he called JWH-018. It was one of many chemical recipes he perfected in a book called “The Cannabinoid Receptors.”

Huffman was engaged in legit research. He apparently did not intend for any of his concoctions to actually be made. Regardless of his ultimate motivation, he unwittingly created a kind of "masterpiece." His "cook book" not only contained recipes for such compounds, it also simplified the process of making very potent drugs that could target cannabinoid receptors.

Move over Breaking Bad.

In fact, the story of Spice could almost be lifted from the plot line of the hit TV series. In real life, Huffman's wife was also sick at the time of the cook book’s inception. Her condition is one treated more and more commonly today with medical cannabinoids.

In this case, however, K2 can not be blamed on a rogue science teacher. At least not directly. However, the Spice epidemic appears to have been based on illicit applications of Huffman's work.

Why? Hoffman's processes compressed production down to several weeks. It was the perfect recipe, in other words, for illicit chemical cooks to whip up a large profit. And the illicit labs went to work. Apparently all over the world.

By late 2008, JWH-018 was first identified by a forensic lab in Germany. The manufacturer had sprayed this synthetic cannabinoid onto plant leaves. He then sold it as a product called “Spice.”

It became the first cannabinoid adulterant found in Germany.

Fast forward to this decade. Spice has now spawned an epidemic in more than one country, let alone continent. In the UK, the drug is blamed as having a “devastating impact” on prison populations.

There are many ironies about the impact of Spice. This starts with its origin. Not to mention the timing of its "popularity."

By 2010, just a few years before the start of Colorado and Washington State’s rec markets, incidental stories of Spice use and deaths began to trickle in. In 2011, the number of calls to poison-control centres about these substances reached 6,549. This figure was up from 112 in 2009. The DEA banned a whole list of synthetic cannabinoids that year. Three of the five compounds the DEA banned were created by the same research scientist, John Huffman. JWH-018, JWH-073 and JWH-200 were all made by the same hand. The Clemson University professor.

Spice synthetic cannabis non-regulated


The first reason people use Spice tends to come from lack of access or proper education concerning cannabis. Many people use these concoctions because they think it will help them pass drug tests, or that Spice is somehow “safer” than the actual cannabis plant.

Additionally, the public is still largely unprotected from this epidemic. This is particularly true in places like the U.S. where cannabis has only just started to become legit in the last 4 years. There is still no federal regulatory oversight. The stereotypes about the drug are partly to blame. So is ignorance surrounding what cannabinoids do and how they work with the brain and body.

At the end of the day, the real reason people use K2 is because they are either desperate or do not understand its health impacts. And both of these reasons stem directly from a world where cannabinoids themselves are still undergoing a revamped image.


Spice appears to be a lingering hangover of a drug war that is not yet over. Its popularity began to rise at a time when cannabis legalization became an inevitability. It also appears to be marketed heavily as a “cannabis substitute.” And as of now, an illegal one.

Do not be tempted to take or use this drug. It can be extremely dangerous. If you want a powerful high, there are many potent cannabis strains that can guarantee you the same euphoria, without the lethal side effects.

This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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