K2 – Synthetic Cannabis
Synthetic cannabis is an herbal and chemical product which mimics the effects of cannabis. It is best known by the brand names K2 and Spice. When synthetic cannabis products first went on sale it was thought that they achieved an effect through a mixture of legal herbs. Laboratory analysis in 2008 showed this was not the case and that they in fact contained synthetic cannabinoids which act on the body in a similar way to cannabinoids naturally found in cannabis, such as THC. Synthetic cannabinoids are used in an attempt to avoid the laws which make cannabis illegal, making synthetic cannabis a designer drug. It has been sold under various brand names, online, in head shops and at some gas stations. It is marketed as an incense or “herbal smoking blend”, but the products are usually smoked by users. Although synthetic cannabis does not produce positive results in drug tests for cannabis, it is possible to detect its metabolites in human urine. The synthetic cannabinoids contained in synthetic cannabis products have been made illegal in many European countries, but remain legal under federal law in the USA. Several US states have made it illegal under state law.
According to the Psychonaut Web Mapping Research Project, synthetic cannabis products, sold under the brand name Spice first appeared in Europe in 2004. The brand “Spice” was released in 2004 by the now dormant company The Psyche Deli in London, UK. In 2006 the brand gained popularity. The EMCDDA reported in 2009 that “Spice” products were identified in 21 of the 30 participating countries. Because ‘Spice’ was the dominant brand until 2009, the competing brands that started to appear from 2008 on, were also dubbed ‘Spice’. Spice can therefore relate to both the brand ‘Spice’, as to all herbal blends with synthetic cannabinoids added. A survey of readers of Mixmag in the UK in 2009, found that one in eight respondents had used synthetic cannabis, compared to 85% who had used cannabis.
No official studies have been conducted on its effects on humans. Though its effects are not well documented, extremely large doses may cause negative effects that are generally not noted in marijuana users, such as increased agitation and vomiting. Professor John W. Huffman who first synthesised many of the cannabinoids used in synthetic cannabis is quoted as saying, “People who use it are idiots”. You don’t know what it’s going to do to you.” A three gram package of Spice is said by one study, to have the same health effects on the lungs as a packet of cigarettes, although no conclusive evidence of this exists outside of the study. A user who consumed 3 g of Spice Gold every day for several months showed withdrawal symptoms, similar to those associated with withdrawing from the use of narcotics. Doctors treating the user also noted that his use of the product showed signs associated with addiction. One case has been reported where a user, who had previously suffered from cannabis induced recurrent psychotic episodes, suffered reactivation of their symptoms after using Spice. Psychiatrists treating him have suggested that the lack of an antipsychotic chemical, similar to cannabidiol found in natural cannabis, may make synthetic cannabis more likely to induce psychosis than natural cannabis.
Spice does not cause a positive drug test for cannabis or other illegal drugs using GC-MS-screening with library search, multi-target screening by LC-MS/MS, or immunological screening procedures.