Signs and Symptoms of Synthetic Cannabinoid (K2 or Spice) Addiction

Man on the street

Any time a person uses an illicit drug, they risk their health and their future. It’s possible that this risk is higher when a person uses a synthetic cannabinoid than when using any other drug.

This group of drugs referred to as synthetic cannabinoids is called that because they act in the brain somewhat like cannabinoids. That’s where any association with cannabis ends. These drugs were never grown in a field, they were synthesized in a lab

DEA photo of Space
Various Cannibinoid Products
Courtesy of

Once on the market, these chemicals are referred to as K2, Spice or a hundred other misleading labels. The chemicals are typically sprayed on shredded plant material so that the final product resembles real cannabis to some degree. The drugs are usually packaged in small foil packages before being sold.

Synthetic cannabinoids are brewed in illicit labs that are completely lacking in any quality controls or even concern about the health of the eventual consumer. Drugs in this group are often simply referred to by letters and numbers. These designations are usually derived from the original researcher or labs that developed the drugs. Here is a partial list.1

  • AB-Fubinaca
  • JWH-018
  • JWH-073
  • JWH-370
  • HU-210
  • CP-47,497
  • AM-1248
  • XLR-11
  • PB-22
  • 5F-PB-22

One of these synthetic cannabinoids, HU-210, is considered to be at least 100 times stronger than THC, the primary intoxicant in marijuana.2 There are hundreds of different synthetic cannabinoids on the illicit market. It is the potency as well as the toxic nature of the chemicals themselves that make these drugs so dangerous.

More than a million people are using these drugs every year, with the largest use among the two groups aged 12 to 17 and 18 to 25.3 Close to one percent of the individuals in these two groups are using these drugs.

Physical Signs of Synthetic Cannabinoid Addiction

While sellers of these K2 formulas claim their products are similar to cannabis, there is very little truth to that. The only similarity is the way these two types of drugs act on the brain. In fact, these synthetics are far more powerful and toxic than plant-based marijuana.

The user may be looking for modifications like these: elevated mood, euphoria, relaxation and altered perception of surrounding objects. The effects they end up experiencing could be quite different. Among the physical signs of addiction are these:4

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Toxic muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis)
  • Pallor
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Unconsciousness
  • Dizziness

Seriously adverse effects on Spice are not even uncommon. There have been multiple episodes when a stronger-than-usual batch of synthetic cannabinoids hit the street and caused dozens of people to suddenly require hospitalization.

A number of these conditions on the list above can worsen to the point of causing a person’s death, such as muscle breakdown or reduced blood supply to the heart.

Mental, Behavioral and Emotional Signs of Synthetic Cannabinoid Addiction

Man on the street

Synthetic cannabinoids can have severe and even dangerous effects on the user’s mind, resulting in erratic and even life-threatening behavior.5

  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Violence
  • Aggressiveness
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts or acts

The Long-Term Physical Damage of Synthetic Cannabinoid Addiction

In addition to the intensely dangerous mental effects, the physical damage done by Spice/K2 can be just as harmful. A person who has been using Spice/K2 may suffer from unexplained bleeding into the urine, from the gums or from old wounds.

Kidney damage caused by these drugs may require hospitalization and dialysis. In addition, these effects may be suffered:

  • Seizures
  • Arrhythmias
  • High fevers
  • Liver toxicity
  • Brain damage
  • Heart attack

The Long-Term Emotional and Mental Damage of Synthetic Cannabinoid Addiction

Young adult experiencing paranoia

The paranoia, delusions and hallucinations that often result from using these drugs can create trauma from which it is difficult for a person to recover. Additionally, the severe immediate effects of K2 may not vanish when the drug wears off. The anxiety, panic and psychosis may persist for a month or more. Perhaps the worst mental symptoms that often require hospitalization are catatonia, the intention to self-injure or suicide or a delusion that the person’s loved ones have been replaced by an impostor.6

Some people manage to use synthetic cannabinoids and survive. Others are not so lucky. The delusions and paranoia that often follow the consumption of K2 can trigger fatal accidents or self-harm.

Synthetic Cannabinoid Overdoses

It is definitely possible to suffer an overdose on these drugs. Since there is no quality control over the drugs and the possibility of new formulas being released at any time, there’s no way to know how strong or toxic a particular batch is. So any package of synthetic cannabinoids could be life-threatening.

People running in hospiral

Here are some of the symptoms of an overdose of synthetic cannabinoids.

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Dangerously high blood pressure
  • Reduced blood supply to the heart
  • Strokes
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney or other organ failures
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Withdrawal from Synthetic Cannabinoid

After synthetic cannabinoids have caused addiction, a person trying to break free of these drugs will suffer headaches, depression, nausea, insomnia, irritability, seizures, chest pain and anxiety as their body begins to recover.

A person trying to recover from Spice addiction may also have to recover from the severe mental disturbances the drugs can cause before they can begin to get their life back.

A Drug to Be Avoided

Synthetic cannabinoids or K2/Spice have ruined the lives of many people who were just looking for some excitement. The introduction of these drugs to the illicit drug market early in this millennium has brought dozens of life-threatening chemicals into the homes of Americans.

Why would anyone start using one of these drugs? Unfortunately, there are so many different formulas that it’s hard to find the right drug test that will detect them. Some individuals who might be drug tested for their jobs have reached out for synthetic cannabinoids as a way they could get high and still pass a drug test.

The sooner a family can convince a person to break free from synthetic cannabinoids and get help, the better. Rehab is needed before these drugs have a chance to steal a person’s mental or physical health or even their life.


  1. DEA. “Spice.” DEA, undated. DEA Article ↩︎

  2. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “Synthetic Cannabinoids.” UNODC, undated. UNODC Article ↩︎

  3. SAMHSA. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health, 2021. SAMHSA Publication ↩︎

  4. DEA. “Drugs of Abuse.” DEA, 2020. DEA Publication ↩︎

  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice) DrugFacts.” NIDA, 2020. NIDA Article ↩︎

  6. National Institutes of Health. “Synthetic Cannabinoids—”Spice” Can Induce a Psychosis.” NIH, 2019. NIH Article ↩︎