What Is Spice?

What is it? Spice/K2 is a synthetic cannabinoid (marijuana) functionally similar to THC, the principle active component of cannabis. It is a psychoactive designer drug created by spraying natural herbs with synthetic chemicals. The DEA has recently declared specific elements of Spice/K2 as a controlled substance.

Street names: Sold as an herbal or botanical incense under the names listed and more: K2, Spice, Spice Gold, Genie, Dragon, Black Magic, Spice Silver, Spice Diamond, Yucatan Fire, Mojo, Sense, Chill X, Smoke, Algerian Blend, Spice 99, Pot Pourri, Buzz, Voodoo, Pulse, Hush, Mystery, Earthquake, Black Mamba, Stinger, Tropical Synergy.

How is it used? Spice/K2 is smoked and often labeled as herbal incense. It appears as an herbal mixture, often including vegetable and plant parts, sprayed with a synthetic cannabinoid oil.

How is it tested? The traditional screening tests for THC do not detect the presence of synthetic cannabinoids, nor do any of the LC-MS/MS confirmatory tests. The commercially available screening EIA tests for the synthetic cannabinoids do not exhibit adequate sensitivity or specificity for the illicit spice products.

Cordant has developed a targeted LC-MS/MS screening test that detects the presence of metabolites of twenty commonly encountered synthetic cannabinoids.

The screening test uses a 1 ng/mL positive cutoff and the results are reported qualitatively as present or absent. A forensic confirmation test is also available with a 1 ng/mL positive cutoff and the positive compounds are identified qualitatively. The screening and confirmation tests detect one or more of the metabolites of the following synthetic cannabinoids:

Metabolism and Detection in Urine: Little is known about the metabolism of the multiple synthetics available. Because of the variability batch to batch, due to dosing irregularities and the variable synthetics used, predicting a half-life and detection window is very difficult. Further, the required “effective” dose for spice is much lower than THC resulting in lower excreted metabolite levels accompanied by higher psychoactive potency. To date, a predicted detection window of 72 hours is representative of the metabolism of these drugs.

Physiological Effects: Elevated heart rate, vomiting, elevated blood pressure, slurred speech, seizures, reddening of the eyes. Acute kidney failure has been reported and multiple reports of admissions to the ICU following the use of Spice have been documented.

Psychological Effects: Severe agitation/aggression, paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety, confusion, impaired sense of time, short term memory defects.

Toxicity: Inter-batch variability due to varying synthetics and doses sprayed allow for a high potential for overdose not associated with traditional THC. These drugs also have a profound effect at the receptor causing desensitization, allowing the user to build a “tolerance” quickly, requiring higher and higher doses to feel the same effect. Additionally, the typical THC user would anticipate comparable activity to synthetic cannabinoids, therefore smoking high doses, which may lead to overdose. Finally, the synthetics have a much stronger and more effective influence on the GABA neurotransmission of the brain than THC, causing anxiety, agitation, seizures and convulsions typically seen with synthetic cannabinoid overdose.

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