What Is Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana, often referred to as “spice” or “k2,” is a mixture of dried plant materials sprayed with chemicals that are marketed as a “legal” alternative to natural marijuana. This synthetic replica is designed to imitate the effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana, sold as ‘spice,’ first appeared in Europe in 2004 and the U.S. in 2008. The chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana, however, were created for experimental purposes decades ago.

- The Foundation for a Drug-Free World

Synthetic marijuana is often found in gas stations, convenience stores, and smoke shops, where it can be purchased legally without a prescription or license. In recent years, this “imitation” marijuana has led to growing concern due to its popularity among teens and young adults.

It is essential to understand that synthetic marijuana is not a safe or harmless substitute for marijuana and that its use can lead to dangerous negative consequences.

If someone you know or care about is abusing synthetic marijuana, get help today.

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Side Effects Of Using Synthetic Marijuana

Side effects of using synthetic marijuana can range from mild, such as feelings of nausea or headaches, to severe, such as heart attack or, in rare instances, death. Depending on the type of synthetic marijuana being used, and the individual’s tolerance for the substance, side effects can vary substantially. Synthetic marijuana, which is not marijuana, is much more dangerous and potent than actual marijuana.

There have been few scientific studies of the effects of synthetic cannabinoids on the human brain, but researchers do know that some of them bind more strongly than marijuana to the cell receptors affected by THC and can produce much stronger effects. The resulting health effects can be unpredictable and dangerous.

- The National Institute on Drug Abuse

Synthetic marijuana can cause serious physical side effects, including the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure
  • Overdose

Adverse psychological effects of synthetic marijuana include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion

Withdrawal symptoms of synthetic marijuana use include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Memory impairment

Why People Abuse Synthetic Marijuana

A variety of factors can cause someone to abuse synthetic marijuana. First, synthetic marijuana is easily accessible and found at gas stations and corner stores across the country. Some believe synthetic marijuana is a safer substitute for marijuana because it is sold legally and marketed as a natural substance. Additionally, synthetic marijuana is typically cheaper than actual marijuana, making it more widely available.

Some people use synthetic marijuana because they want to experience the effects of marijuana without any legal consequences. Others may experiment with synthetic marijuana solely because they are curious about how it will make them feel. They may want to experience a “high” or an altered state of consciousness associated with both synthetic and non-synthetic marijuana.

Individuals with mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, may use synthetic marijuana to self-medicate. This type of use is especially alarming, as synthetic marijuana can be highly addictive, which may cause some to develop a physical dependence.

Long-Term Consequences Of Synthetic Marijuana Abuse

The consequences of synthetic marijuana abuse can be severe. Along with the immediate side effects and potential health concerns that can arise shortly after using, synthetic marijuana can cause a host of unwanted side effects when abused for long periods.

Some effects of long-term synthetic marijuana abuse include the following.

Health Problems

Synthetic marijuana can cause many physical and mental health issues, including nausea, vomiting, elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure, seizures, hallucinations, paranoia, overdose, hospitalization, and even death. It’s important to note that any of these health conditions can arise even after short-term use, as there is no safe level of synthetic marijuana use.


Since synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as safe and legal, combined with the lack of regulation surrounding them, the chemical compounds within them remain largely unknown. What is known, however, is that these compounds can be addictive, and continued use can lead to physical dependence. Withdrawal symptoms may include anger, irritability, anxiety, and depression.

Cognitive Problems

Synthetic marijuana can cause memory impairment and diminished attention when used even for short durations. These impairments can lead to things like physical harm, accidents, or car crashes, which can be fatal. Long-term synthetic marijuana use can cause permanent mental issues such as memory loss and motor skill impairment.

Legal Issues

While many synthetic cannabinoids are legal, some synthetic marijuana products are illegal in some countries, states, or cities, and possessing or using it can have serious legal consequences. It can also alter a person’s mental state and cause poor decision-making, such as driving under the influence, which may result in legal issues.

Employment Problems

Sadly, many people who struggle with synthetic marijuana abuse also suffer from employment problems. The side effects of using synthetic marijuana can lead to poor work productivity, frequently missing work, behavioral issues, or even job loss.

Relationship Problems

Like employment, synthetic marijuana abuse can strain relationships with family and friends and lead to social isolation. This, for many, leads to break-ups, divorce, and separation from family members.

Financial Problems

Synthetic marijuana abuse, like many other illicit drugs, can become an expensive habit. Long-term abuse can cause financial hardships, leading to debt, loss of housing, and loss of employment.

Treatment And Rehabilitation

Synthetic marijuana abuse can lead to physical and psychological dependence, and addiction treatment may be paramount for some people. Treatment frequently involves a combination of psychotherapies and pharmacological therapies to address the addiction’s physical and psychological aspects. Treatment for synthetic marijuana abuse may vary depending on each person’s specific needs and circumstances. Some of the most common treatment options include the following.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

One of the most successful kinds of treatments for substance use disorders, including synthetic marijuana addiction, is CBT. CBT helps individuals identify and change negative thoughts and behavior patterns related to drug use. Being able to recognize, digest, and understand these patterns is an important part of therapy and helps build coping mechanisms that will help long after the treatment process.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT is a treatment modality that incorporates psychotherapeutic behavioral therapies such as CBT combined with the use of specific medications. Medications used in this treatment method are used to manage specific symptoms or help develop strategies for those who need longer periods of time to safely stop using a particular substance.

No specific antidote exists for synthetic cannabinoid toxicity. Benzodiazepines treat agitation and seizures, and antipsychotics may be required for unremitting psychotic symptoms.

- National Library for Medicine

Residential (Inpatient) Treatment

For individuals with severe synthetic marijuana abuse or dependence, residential treatment programs may be recommended. These programs provide a structured and supportive environment where individuals can focus on their recovery 24/7 for some time.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment offers drug and alcohol treatment sessions as well as support groups that can be attended multiple times a week while remaining at home. This option may benefit those with mild to moderate synthetic marijuana abuse or who may find it difficult to maintain childcare or employment throughout the treatment process.

Support Groups

Support groups are peer-led and a place for people to come together and provide emotional and moral support to one another. People often find comfort in these groups because they meet others they can relate to and do not have to fear judgment.

Additionally, support from family and friends and involvement in social and recreational activities can also be beneficial in the recovery process.

Don’t Wait To Get Help

Recognizing that, even though it is legal, using or abusing synthetic marijuana can have serious ramifications. If you or someone you know is struggling with synthetic marijuana abuse, it is vital to seek help and support. Contact a treatment provider today to learn more about your treatment options.