Spice Drug - Effects, Usage & Withdrawal - Rehab Guide UK

Spice Drug

Spice Drug

The synthetic cannabinoid  Spice drug is sold in colourful foil packages in cannabis paraphernalia shops, also known as  ‘Head shops’ to attract buyers. Spice and other similar drugs can also be purchased online.

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Spice products come in a vast variety of colourful foil packaging with different brand names, chemical compounds and strengths

The fact that these drugs can be obtained so easily, are classed as synthetic cannabinoids and are marketed at the younger generation, can give the false impression they are safe.

Rehab Guide aim to provide the latest, accredited and most accurate information available so that our readers can make informed choices.

If you or a loved one have a problem with Spice or another ‘legal high’, our CQC registered drug rehabs offer proven and effective treatment to help you safely stop Spice and take back control of your life.

What is Spice Drug?

Spice is a man-made  ‘designer drug’ with strong psychoactive properties manufactured within unregulated laboratories.

Spice is a generic name for a whole host of products classed as synthetic cannabinoid receptor antagonists.

It is important to understand that Spice is NOT synthetic marijuana/ cannabis. The label of a synthetic cannabinoid is extremely misleading as its effects are far more potent, addictive and dangerous.

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Spice’s appearance comes in variations of green and brown herb like blends, Spice/K2 is also available in a liquid incense form

As an analogue of cannabis, Spice has been developed to have a greater affinity to bind to the brains CB1 receptor (cannabinoid 1 receptor) and therefore produces very potent psychoactive effects. Spice is designed to mimic the effects of THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis (an illegal drug in the UK) (1) 

The appearance can vary, traditionally it is available in a herbal blend but is also obtainable in a liquid form.

Is Spice a safe alternative to cannabis?

The truth about Spice is that it is anything but safe and it is nothing like cannabis!

Previously classed as a legal high, Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids first became available in the UK in 2014. They quickly took hold in a way no one could have possibly imagined or predicted.

Their appeal was mostly down to clever marketing of the product, leading consumers to believe they were a safe and legal alternative to cannabis.

In 2015, Spice and its analogues were responsible for 204 deaths in the UK. This is why the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids need to be realised. The chemicals contained within Spice are manufactured in laboratories, they are not plant-based, unlike cannabis products.

The Zombie drug

With an initial boom in sales of psychoactive legal highs, the effects were soon realised, albeit too late. It wasn’t long before Spice was labelled the ‘Zombie drug’.

Spice received this morbid nickname after leaving its users in what can only be described as in a Zombie-like state.

Marketed as herbal smoking blends and incense, the manufacturers of synthetic cannabinoids are forever tweaking the ingredients and releasing new brand names to stay one step ahead of the law. There are numerous brands of synthetic cannabinoids available but they all fall under the blanket name of Spice.

Each specific recipe of Spice is branded under a different name.

Well known Spice and synthetic cannabinoid brands include:

Spice Gold, Spice diamond Annihilation, Devils Weed, K2, Krypton, Black Mamba, Kronic, Joker and Kush.

There are literally hundreds more of these drugs in circulation.

How is Spice used?

Spice is most commonly smoked as a herbal blend, either on its own or with tobacco. Herbal blends of spice are usually smoked with tobacco in a ‘spliff’ or without tobacco through a bong or pipe.

Concentrated liquid forms of Spice have been available in the US and UK since 2016. The liquid can be added to tobacco or cannabis products and smoked, taken orally in a liquid drink and added to food and eaten. They can also be inhaled through an e-cigarette or vaporizer, or less commonly injected in liquid form.(2)

Most users will use Spice in the same way that they would cannabis but due to Spice being more potent and addictive, addiction is common in frequent users.

Is Spice Legal – Drug Classification of Spice

Currently, Spice is classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act as a Class B drug, as are similar synthetic psychoactive cannabinoids such as Black Mamba, K2 and Annihilation.

Originally, when first released, Spice had no drug classification and was referred to as a legal high. Products are sold with a disclaimer on the packaging stating:not fit for human consumption’. This is the manufacturer’s way of getting around the law by trying to exempt themselves from the responsibility of misuse of these drugs.

As a result of a vast increase in synthetic cannabinoid deaths and overdoses in the US and the UK, the government were prompted to introduce a new drug classification to the Misuse of Drugs Act in May of 2016.

Since the New Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect, all psychoactive cannabinoids and synthetic psychoactive drugs are illegal to supply, import or produce. They are also illegal for personal use (ie purchasing from a dealer, black market or the internet)

As a Class B drug Spice is:

  • illegal to possess, produce, give away or sell.
  • Illegal to supply and production can result in up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
  • Illegal to use whilst driving. If you are caught driving whilst intoxicated by Spice, you risk a heavy fine, losing your licence, or both. In severe or repeated offences imprisonment may be imposed.

The effects of Spice

Effects of Spice are not dissimilar to heroin or fentanyl but with added psychoactive effects.

New users who think they are smoking a replica of cannabis are unlikely to be aware of just how potent the effects are. This misconception sadly leads to many overdoses, some of which ultimately result in coma and death.

The chemical composition of each synthetic cannabinoid varies and is unknown. Chemical compounds vary from batch to batch and brand to brand.

Similar drugs such as K2 often contain very harmful and extremely addictive substances, producing effects that the user may not expect, nor be prepared for.

Physical effects of Spice include:

  • Extreme relaxation of nervous system and muscles
  • Increased energy
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting (risk of choking of vomit)
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Distorted and impaired senses
  • Hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that are not there)
  • Unconsciousness
  • Drug cravings
  • Changes in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Impaired co coordination (appearing drunk)
  • Impaired and/or delayed speech
  • Immobility
  • Internal haemorrhaging (4)
  • Chest pains
  • Kidney failure
  • Swelling of the brain
  • Depressed respiratory system
  • Coma
  • Death (3,4)

Psychological effects of Spice include:

  • Euphoria
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Distorted perception of time and space
  • Dreamlike state
  • Impaired awareness of surroundings
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Amnesia
  • Impaired cognitive ability and decision making (3)

How each person responds to Spice or K2 can vary tremendously depending on the chemical content of the drug and their individual drug tolerance.


Due to Spices strong addictive properties and potent effects, most Spice users are unable to function in society in a normal and productive way. Most Spice users end up homeless, living in hostels or on the streets.

In Manchester, it is estimated that up to 95% of all homeless people are addicted to Spice. Spice is cheap to obtain, readily available and difficult to detect by traditional drug testing methods

Spice is also prominently used throughout the UK’s prisons, where it is easy to smuggle in from the outside. Spices powerful psychoactive properties distort the user’s perception of time. For prisoners, it is an ideal drug to pass time.

Due to Spice, K2 and similar synthetic cannabinoids being cleverly marketed in a colourful cartoon designed packaging, this deadly drug appeals most to the younger generation.

In August 2018, the Lincolnshire police commissioner called for Spice to be reclassified from a Class B drug to a Class A, in the hope that the general public would take the serious effects and addictiveness of Spice more seriously. Sadly this never happened.

Spices popularity has gained huge momentum in the North of England, where reports of people taking Spice in the streets were presenting in a vulnerable and extremely dangerous comatose like state.

The Lincolnshire police also reported that people addicted to Spice were turning to heroin as a softer option and as a way to try and break away from Spice dependency (5) 

Number of deaths caused by Spice in the UK

The exact number of deaths relating to synthetic cannabinoids is unknown to the Office of National Statistics despite many calls for more information.

Deaths covering Spice and similar drugs are legally recorded under New Psychoactive Substances, which covers all synthetic cannabinoids as well as other synthetic psychoactive substances.

What is known is that 125 people died from using a New Psychoactive substance in 2019 in England and Wales. Of these deaths, 56 were specifically attributed to synthetic cannabinoids, by far the highest number of deaths out of all the specific new psychoactive substances available.

10 Facts on Spice – effects, usage, withdrawal & potential complications

  1. Spice and similar synthetic cannabinoids have different chemical structures to THC. Because of this, THC drug tests for synthetic cannabinoids would not produce a positive result.
  2. Spice appeals to those who want to use drugs but have to undergo compulsory or randomised drug testing such as those in the military, in prison, athletes or on probation.
  3. Whereas cannabis products have only been proven to cause psychological harm when abused, Spice products present a significant risk to BOTH physical and psychological health and can cause long term health implications and immediate death
  4. Products are made from a concoction of chemicals and can contain highly toxic substances including rat poison and embalming fluid. Some tests have also found other drugs to be added to these synthetic cannabinoids such as cocaine, benzodiazepines and even fentanyl. 
  5. Nicknamed the ‘Zombie drug’ due to leaving its users partially immobilized and in a dream-like ‘Zombie’ state
  6. Using Spice regularly during teenage years and young adulthood often causes long term permanent damage to the brain. There is also a higher risk of  drug addiction and progression to Class A substances
  7. The long term effects use can vary from person to person depending on the brand they are using and its chemical formulation.  A study conducted in Germany on a patient withdrawing from daily use of “Spice Gold” reported ill effects such as strong drug cravings, sweating, hypertension, restlessness, agitation, headache and nightmares. 
  8. In addition to Spice carrying very obvious harmful effects to physical health, it can also cause long term complications to psychological well being, negatively affecting attention span, cognitive ability and memory. Long term use can also the onset of new psychosis or relapse of psychosis. 
  9. Synthetic cannabinoids products can be purchased from online head shops for as little as £4/5 and delivered discreetly and directly to your door. This cheaper than both heroin, cannabis and cocaine
  10. Although marketed as a synthetic cannabinoid that mimics the effects of cannabis, the effects are nothing like cannabis. Spice should never be considered a safe or softer alternative to a cannabis product.

Addiction and withdrawal

Whilst some people may try Spice once and decide its effects are not for them, others with addictive tendencies or who are seeking an escape from reality and oblivion can become addicted.

Once addicted it can be very difficult to stop. Reports suggest that withdrawal is extremely unpleasant and not dissimilar to withdrawing from benzodiazepines or heroin. Withdrawal can be dangerous, even life-threatening.

The withdrawal effects from dependence can cause a person to continue to use the drug rather than go through the withdrawal process.

Help for addiction

If you or a loved one need help to stop using a synthetic cannabinoid, we at Rehab Guide provide professional safe and effective treatment.

Our CQC registered detox and rehab centres can assist you in safely detoxing and deliver a bespoke rehabilitation programme consisting of evidence-based treatments to ensure that you never have to use again.

For more information on how we can help you or a loved one to quit once and for all, call our team of friendly addiction treatment experts today.



References :


  1. Banister SD, Stuart J, Kevin RC, Edington A, Longworth M, Wilkinson SM, et al. (August 2015). Effects of bioisosteric fluorine in synthetic cannabinoid designer drugs JWH-018, AM-2201, UR-144, XLR-11, PB-22, 5F-PB-22, APICA, and STS-135″
  2. National Institute on drug abuse NIDA – Synthetic cannabinoids Spice/K2 drug facts https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cannabinoids-k2spice
  3. How harmful is K2/Spice? CDC Centre for Disease Control and Prevention


  1. CDC Synthetic cannabinoids: What are they? What are their effects? https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hsb/chemicals/sc/default.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fnceh%2Fhsb%2Fsynthetic_marijuana.htm
  2. Spice – Most server public health issue in decades. BBC News https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lincolnshire-45341458
  3. ONS 2019 deaths related to drug poisoning by selected substances
  4. Fantegrossi, William E., Jeffery H. Moran, Anna Radominska-Pandya, and Paul L. Prather. “Distinct Pharmacology and Metabolism of K2 Synthetic CannabinoidsCompared to Δ9-THC: Mechanism Underlying Greater Toxicity?” Life Sciences 97, no. 1 (2014): 45-54. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2013.09.017.
  5. Drug Policy Alliance –  Fact sheet on synthetic cannabinoids https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/Synthetic_Cannabinoid_Fact_Sheet.pdf

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