Synthetic cannabinoids such as K2/Spice are not the same as marijuana, find out more here about the differences between these drugs.

There are new psychoactive substances today: synthetic cannabinoids such as K2 (also known as “spice”). These products have been sold legally in convenience stores, over the internet, and in “head shops” under the guise of “herbal potpourri” or “herbal incense” but, in reality, are sold to be smoked. But are marijuana and spice the same thing?

What are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Synthetic cannabinoids are chemicals that resemble naturally occurring cannabinoids. However, there is no such thing as a synthetic marijuana plant. These synthetic cannabinoid chemicals are made in laboratories. Although these chemicals resemble THC structurally, they are not the same. Moreover, spice and marijuana are not the same. Spice packets consist of otherwise inert herbs and aromatics that have been sprayed with synthetic cannabinoid chemicals. Unfortunately, these products quickly became popular among youths, and teen drug use of synthetic cannabinoids such as spice is still a concern today.

Why are Synthetic Cannabinoids Dangerous?

Synthetic cannabinoids are dangerous. K2 chemicals that are meant to mimic THC (such as JWH-018 or AM2201) are actually physically addictive, according to anecdotal reports. It is possible to experience a K2 overdose. There are no systematic studies on the effects of synthetic cannabinoids on humans. However, again, there are many anecdotal reports of these overdoses and other side effects.

Side Effects of K2/Spice

Synthetic cannabinoids produce symptoms similar to those adverse effects experienced after high doses of marijuana, most notably psychosis. However, some symptoms are quite unlike what is experienced on marijuana, such as pronounced agitation, epileptic seizures, hypokalemia and frequent nausea/vomiting. Some other notable effects of a K2 overdose include neurotoxicity and cardiotoxicity.

How to Tell the Difference Between K2 and Marijuana

Although people have considered K2 to be a marijuana substitute, they are not the same. There are many differences between K2 and weed, not only in their side effects but also in their physical appearance. K2 often resembles potpourri or herbal tobacco. Unlike real marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids (when sprayed onto plant material) are not sticky and do not contain buds. It is typically cut very fine and is greenish-brown in color. K2 and other similar synthetic cannabinoid products are also sold in decorated foil packets that come from a store.

Other Names for Synthetic Marijuana

Some other synthetic marijuana brand names or street names for synthetic marijuana include: Scooby Snax, Mr. Happy, AK-47, Kush, Kronic, Joker, Black Mamba, Bling Blank Monkey, Bombay Blue, Climax, Cloud 9, Genie, Matrix, OMG, Phantom, Releaf and Zohai.

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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Brooke Dulka, PHD
Brooke Nichole Dulka is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She received her PhD in Biological Psychology at the University of Tennessee in August 2018. Read more
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K2/Spice Hotline

Zawilska, Jolanta B.; Wojcieszak, Jakub. “Spice/K2 drugs–more than innocent subs[…]itutes for marijuana.” International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2014. Accessed October 18, 2019.

Every-Palmer, Susanna. “Synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018 and psychosis: an explorative study.” Drug and alcohol dependence, 2011. Accessed October 18, 2019.

Zaurova, Milana; et al. “Clinical effects of synthetic cannabinoi[…] acute drug overdose.” Journal of medical toxicology, 2016. Accessed October 18, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.