Spice & K2 Addiction Treatment

What is Spice addiction and how can it be treated? Read this COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE on addiction, rehabilitation treatment, and aftercare services for long-term recovery.

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Reviewed by: Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D. Dr. Juan Goecke, M.D.

ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Spice is a mix of herbs (shredded plant material) and manmade chemicals with mind-altering effects. In this review, we will let you walk through addiction treatment in a clear way. We’ll discuss treatment options, what you can expect, and how you can help a loved one. Finally, we invite your questions at the end.


What Is Spice-K2?

K2 and Spice are just two of the many trade names or brands for synthetic cannabinoid drugs that are intended to mimic THC, the main active ingredient of marijuana. Most often, the chemicals are sprayed onto plant materials to make it look like marijuana. This is why Spice is often called “synthetic marijuana” or “fake weed”… But its effects are frequently much stronger than THC.

  • Altered perception.
  • Delusions.
  • Extreme anxiety.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Mood swings.
  • Paranoia.
  • Psychosis.

Why? Spice has similar effects on the brain receptors as the key ingredient found in marijuana, THC. However, the chemical composition of synthetic cannabinoid products is mostly unknown. These chemicals evolve to evade government regulations and to maintain the guise of “legality”.

What this means is that the ingredients found in Spice or K2 mixes vary and some of them may cause dramatically different effects. Sometimes smoking Spice can trigger a nightmare trip.

So, how does regular use of Spice turn into an addiction? An addiction does not develop overnight. On the contrary, it often begins with a period of adaptation, when your brain adjusts to a drug as you use it habitually. Once you develop this physical dependence on a drug, it becomes much harder to quit. Still, the hallmark signs of addiction are more psychological in nature. They include:

1. Loss of control of drug use and the inability to moderate use or quit.
2. Cravings for a particular drug often combined with obsessive-compulsive thinking.
3. Continued use despite negative consequences to home, health, or work life.

Who Becomes Addicted?

Not everyone who uses Spice will become addicted. The formation of addiction are influenced by multiple factors such as:

Co-Occurring Disorders. Persons, who struggle with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or post-traumatic stress disorder, are at higher risk for developing spice dependence and addiction.

Emotional turmoil. When people are dealing with anxiety, depression and loneliness, using drugs can become a way of coping with these issues and can make these problems even worse.

Genetics and family history of diseases. Addiction is present in many families and involves genetic predisposition. If your parent or a blood relative has struggled with substance abuse issues, you are at greater risk of developing an addiction.

Lack of family involvement. Broken communication patterns between parents and children or a lack of family bonds may increase the risk of addiction.

Peer pressure. This contributing factor to the development of Spice addiction is particularly present among young people.

The need for experimentation. Drugs such as cannabis are considered less addictive, “light drugs”. This point of view can easily lead people to use abuse and addiction.

The widespread availability of the drug is one of the most concerning facts. Smoking Spice can trigger unpredictable overdose and major health problems.

Facts & Statistics

Let’s take a look at production and use patterns.

The fact is…if you or your child is using Spice, you are not alone!

In terms of production, manufacturers are constantly evolving the product. In 2009, two synthetic cannabinoids and five synthetic cathinones were reported to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS). By comparison, in 2015, 84 different synthetic cannabinoids and 35 different synthetic cathinones were reported to the NFLIS. [1]

Now, consider the number of people smoking Spice…

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Spice is the second-most popular illegal drug used by high school seniors (marijuana is the first). [2] Easy access and the misperception that Spice is “natural” and safe have likely contributed to these high rates of use. A national survey showed 4.0% of 8th graders; 7.4% of 10th graders; and 7.9% of 12th graders used synthetic marijuana in 2012. [3]

Further, the annual Monitoring the Future survey found a decline in past-year use of Spice/K2 among 12th graders in 2014. That year, 5.8% of 12th graders reported using Spice/K2, compared to 7.9% in 2013 and 11.3% in 2012. This decline was attributed to a growing awareness of the risk of using synthetic marijuana among this age group. Despite the encouraging decline in use, these products were still the third-most popular drug among both 8th graders and 12th graders. [4]

Signs of a Problem

Repeated use of any psychoactive drug creates physical dependence. Over time, your brain functions adjust to a drug’s effects in order to function regularly. Some functions “speed up” while others “slow down”. This is just the body’s way of accommodating the chemical imbalance of regular drug use.

So, when you become dependent on Spice for regular function… and synthetic cannabis is no longer present in your system, the brain is still functioning at this adjusted level. It then manifests symptoms of the “speeding up” or “slowing down” functions until it reaches balance again, also known as homeostasis.

Spice withdrawal symptoms can be quite unpleasant and for some, even dangerous. This is why medical supervision is recommended in cases of Spice withdrawal. You can get medical treatment for the following:

  • Cravings.
  • Depression.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Extreme sweating.
  • Insomnia.
  • Nausea.
  • Paranoia.
  • Psychosis.
  • Seizures.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Vomiting.

Brain Effects

So far, there have been few scientific studies of the effects of synthetic cannabinoids on the human brain. However, researchers do know that some of the chemicals found in Spice bind more strongly than marijuana to the cell receptors affected by THC, and can produce much stronger effects. The resulting health effects can be unpredictable and dangerous.

Because the chemical composition of many synthetic cannabinoid products is unknown and may change from batch to batch, these products are likely to contain substances that cause dramatically different effects than the user might expect.

Psychotic effects include:

  • Confusion.
  • Extreme anxiety.
  • Hallucinations (sensations and images that seem real though they are not).
  • Paranoia (extreme and unreasonable distrust of others).

People who have used synthetic cannabinoids and have been taken to emergency rooms have shown severe effects including:

  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Violent behavior.
  • Vomiting.

Negative Side Effects

Synthetic cannabinoids can raise blood pressure and cause reduced blood supply to the heart, as well as kidney damage and seizures. Use of these drugs is associated with a rising number of deaths.

Different types of toxicity also include:

Mild to moderate intoxication can result in alterations in mood and perception, dry mouth, red eyes, and an increase in pulse rate, similar to weed. Persistent severe vomiting has been observed in a patient following excessive use. Other effects reported that may not follow the current pattern of exposure to THC compounds have included hypertension, agitation, tremors, paranoia, hallucinations. The onset of effects after inhalation is rapid and gradually resolves.

Severe toxicity can result in severe agitation, over heating of the body, recurrent seizures, tachycardia, rhabdomyolysis (a condition in which damaged skeletal muscle breaks down rapidly) and psychosis (an abnormal condition of the mind that results in difficulties telling what is real and what is not) have been reported. Acute renal injury has been reported among teenagers after smoking a new synthetic cannabinoid referred to as XLR-11. [5]

Overdose Cases

Spice distributors often market Spice as natural herbs or harmless incense using colorful, attractive packaging and the allure of a safe experience. Spice also attracts teens because it is not easily detectable in urine and blood samples. This encourages both traditional marijuana users as well as those with no prior experience with illegal substances.

But Spice is causing overdose and truly dangerous effects!

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), there were 13 calls to poison centers in 2009 regarding exposure to synthetic cannabinoids.

However, in 2010 there were 2,915 documented calls. In 2011, Spice was mentioned by patients in the emergency room 28,531 times. This is a dramatic increase … over the course of just a few years!

Poison center experts as well as many federal, state, and local government officials have called synthetic drug use a risk to the public´s health and hazard to public safety.

In 2018, through May, poison centers received reports of 953 exposures to synthetic cannabinoids. The harmful effects from these products were first reported in the U.S in 2009. Since then, the drugs have spread throughout the country. Poison centers received 2,668 calls about exposures to these drugs in 2013, 3,682 exposures in2014, and 7,797 exposures in 2015. [6]

In recent cases, some users overdose resemble opioid overdoses, including lethargy and suppression of breathing; in other cases, they have exhibited agitated and violent behavior. Why do people overdose?

Mainly, the type and amount of THC homologs, contained within herbal products, can vary considerably. There is a possibility of severe overdose due to batch-to-batch variability within the same product. In addition, there is very little known regarding the herbal mixtures used as the delivery vehicle; the herbs themselves may also have additive psychoactive properties.

How Do I Get Better?

Ask for help!

When facing an addiction, look for a treatment program. , which may result in severe consequences upon your health and well-being if left untreated. Medical studies have proven that addiction is a manageable condition when treated by professionals. Doctors, addiction counselors and other medical experts are trained in addressing your needs.

Who can you seek help from?

  • A licensed clinical social worker
  • A psychotherapist
  • A psychiatrist
  • Your primary physician
  • A medical doctor who’s been trained in addiction medicine
  • An addiction treatment center
  • A detox clinic

Treatment Options

Treatment is symptomatic and supportive. When looking for a method to end drug dependence the following are the basic options you can choose from. A variety of treatment options are available for Spice addiction, including:

Inpatient facilities require you to stay at the facility 24 hours a day. These centers provide treatment around the clock, which usually includes therapeutic activities and medical management of withdrawal symptoms, when necessary.

An outpatient recovery program will consist of regularly scheduled appointments that may include counseling or behavioral therapy. Outpatient treatment allows you to maintain your normal day-to-day activities while undergoing different types of treatment interventions.

Dual diagnosis programs help individuals who suffer from both an addiction and a mental illness. These programs focus on treating both the psychiatric conditions and substance abuse at the same time through a variety of methods. Increasingly, more substance treatment programs specialize in recognizing and managing dual diagnosis issues.

Group counseling is incorporated into outpatient and inpatient substance abuse treatment. It involves meeting with a counselor and around 5 to 10 other individuals recovering from some type of addiction. Group therapy helps you by establishing peer support and reducing feelings of isolation.

Individual counseling allows you to one-on-one with a trained therapist counselors help those struggling with addiction by helping them recognize addictive behaviors and motivating them to achieve and sustain abstinence.

12-step programs approach addiction in a structured step-by-step manner to help attain and maintain sobriety. These programs typically include group meetings, and they focus on cognitive, social and spiritual life changes. Some addiction treatment programs are based on a 12-step model, but attendance at 12-step meetings can occur outside of the treatment setting, as well.

Treatment for Teens

Fortunately, many of the same treatments available for adults are also available for teens. Teen Addiction Anonymous is an organization that began in 1999 to help young adults suffering from addiction, and it follows the same 12-step programs used by adults.

Teens may also choose to participate in wilderness retreats with other youth facing similar substance abuse issues. These programs combine inpatient addiction treatment with activities such as backpacking, horseback riding and leadership courses

The list of treatment varieties and approaches for overcoming addiction is long. Depending upon your needs, circumstances, and desires, you can choose the method or a combination of methods that best answers your needs. If you feel the need to change the program you have been following you can also do that. You are free to make changes to the path you have chosen so that recovery works best for you and your health.

What Happens In Rehab?

There are some basic stages of treatment offered by all reputable rehabs. Specific treatment plans vary between rehabilitation centers or between people, each case is individual.

The mains stages of rehab treatment include:

  1. Admissions and assessment
  2. Detox, if necessary
  3. Psychological treatment and medication titration

STAGE 1: Admissions and assessment.

First, people complete the admission process at the clinic of their choice. During this stage, important medical information is collected, the duration of the program in which the patient will be determined and financial matters to pay for the rehabilitation plan is determined. You can plan for this stage fo last 1-2 hours. You may be asked to provide a urine or blood simple, insurance information, and a full medical history.

STAGE 2: Detox, if necessary.

Then, medical detoxification may be supervised to make sure the medication is out of the body. Detoxification can last between a few days, weeks or months, depending on the severity of the drug addiction.

STAGE 3: Psychological treatment and medication titration.

After detoxification, people begin rehabilitation at the treatment center. The rehabilitation focuses on the creation of links between equals and the elimination of psychological and emotional dependencies and addictions to synthetic marijuana. This can be done through therapies and group sessions, among other activities that were previously mentioned. Medications may also be helpful, especially if anxiety or depression or other mental disorders are present.

You need to find a rehab that will customize addiction treatment to meet your individual needs.

Custom Is Best

There is no a single path to recovery from addiction. A method that might work for someone might not be appropriate for another. When looking for a treatment program, you can choose from a wide variety of settings, duration of treatment, location, and therapies. Nevertheless, in order to get the best treatment possible, look for a tailor made program.


The FDA still does not approve any medication for treating this type of addiction. [7]

Sometimes, medications may be prescribed for underlying mental health problems. You should be evaluated by physicians on a case-by-case basis. In this way, medication assisted treatment using antidepressants can help “even out” imbalances in the brain so that you can concentrate on the talk therapy. The idea is that it is much easier to address the why part of drug use when the body and mind feel relatively normal.

Other medications are used to treat the effects and symptoms of Spice-K2 withdrawal. For example, abrupt discontinuation of chronic use can cause withdrawal symptoms like profuse sweating, tremors, palpitations, insomnia, headache, depression, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting; these symptoms may be treated with benzodiazepines.

Likewise, people who present with irritability, agitation, anxiety, and seizures associated with intoxication or withdrawal are generally administered benzodiazepines as a first-line treatment. Neuroleptics are also administered for acute psychosis and agitation and mania with psychotic symptoms. Although not always effective, antiemetics have been administered for vomiting highlights pharmacotherapies that have been implemented specifically for detoxification according to symptom.

Quetiapine has also been shown to be effective in treating withdrawal symptoms in patients who failed to respond to benzodiazepines. Naltrexone has been prescribed to reduce cravings associated with detoxification. In agitated patients, tachycardia usually responds to benzodiazepine sedation. Continuous cardiac monitoring is needed.
Chest pain has been reported in adolescents abusing THC homologs. Treatment options can be with aspirin, nitroglycerin and benzodiazepines.

Tapering Guidelines

Until now there are no taper guidelines registered to help treat addiction to Spice-K2.


Program prices vary depending on the type of program, with inpatient treatment costing more than outpatient. The size of the program and length of stay will also influence the overall cost, along with the location and level of luxury. Average costs follow.

  • Detox: From $6-12,000 .
  • Counseling: From free to $150 per hour.
  • Inpatient programs: Average $700 per day
  • Outpatient programs: Average $150-200 per day.

Medicaid, Medicare and other federal health insurance packages now cover part of the treatment of substance use disorders. The Mental Health Parity Act also make sure that this treatment is covered with private insurance.

However, this coverage does not always cover the total costs. Depending on which state you live in, marketplace (government-organized) insurance plans often cover abuse treatment to varying degrees. Visit the health insurance marketplace to see what kind of coverage your state offers.

Private insurance plans vary in coverage, so call your personal insurance organization to find out what is covered by your plan.

How To Help A Loved One

Reaching out to help someone with a drug problem is not easy. All too often, close friends and family turn a blind eye to the situation and hope that the person will eventually see sense; this almost never happens.

Here is what you can do to help a friend or loved one who is experiencing a problem with Spice or K2:

Do not play the blame-game. Avoid blaming, shaming and criticizing your addicted loved one. Instead, be compassionate.

Educate yourself. The best way to encourage a loved one to enter treatment understands how Spice makes them feel and behave. Understand addiction as a medical condition and this will help inform later decisions on rehab, counseling, or interventions.

Seek professional guidance from and addiction counselor or therapist. Talk to an interventionist, psychologist, family counselor, or even a spiritual guide to learn how to motivate your loved to accept treatment. Find a way how to discuss the consequences of drug use to your loved ones. Concentrate on issues of direct health and behavior.

Look into CRAFT. Learn about CRAFT strategies that might help you improve your communication skills with your addicted loved one. You will learn how to stay safe around them, when to engage in a “talk,” and how to take care of yourself. CRAFT shows remarkable efficacy at getting people to want addiction treatment, instead of being “forced into it.” Practice tough love. If you intend to help your addicted loved one in the long run, do not enable them. [8]

Aftercare Treatment

Before you finish any rehab program, be sure to prepare a discharge plan to help you stay sober. This plan consists of activities and relapse prevention strategies. Upon discharge, you will be given all the contacts and resources needed to continue along you recovery road. Common suggestions include:

  • Coaching.
  • Ongoing counseling or psychotherapy.
  • Sober living.
  • Social support.

Recovery is a lifelong commitment. Even after completing rehab, many people continue to struggle with addiction. Aftercare includes all programs that follow a residential stay. Just like rehab, aftercare treatment is individually designed to help you:

  • Avoid high risk situations.
  • Develop the coping skills maintain long-term recovery.
  • Recognize potential triggers.

Aftercare plans usually include:

  • Educational opportunities and workforce training.
  • Family, group, or individual counseling sessions.
  • On going therapy sessions.
  • Professional help managing or monitoring any medications or supplements prescribed.
  • Support group meetings.

There is a great deal of scientific evidence that addiction treatment works, and people recover every day. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be managed successfully.

Some of the many benefits to living a sober life include:

  • Better legal status.
  • Better mental health.
  • Improved health.
  • Improved public safety.
  • Improvements in education.
  • Improvements in employment.
  • Reduced drug use.
  • Relationship improvements.
Reference Sources: [1] NFLIS: Special Report: Synthetic Cannabinoids And Synthetic Cathinones Reported In NFLIS, 2013–2015
[2] NIDA: Most Commonly Used Addictive Drugs
[3] NIDA: Drug Facts: High School and Youth Trends
[4] NIH: Vaping Popular Among Teens; Opioid Misuse At Historic Lows
[5] NCBI: Spice-y Kidney Failure: A Case Report and Systematic Review of Acute Kidney Injury Attributable to the Use of Synthetic Cannabis
[6] AAPCC: Synthetic Cannabinoid Data. May 31, 2018
[7] NIDA: Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice)
[8] NCBI: Developing Community Reinforcement And Family Training (CRAFT) For Parents Of Treatment-Resistant Adolescents
CDC: Synthetic Cannabinoids: An Overview For Healthcare Providers
DEA: K2-Spice
DEA: Spice-K2 Fact Sheet
NCBI: Adverse Effects Of Synthetic Cannabinoids: Management Of Acute Toxicity And Withdrawal
NIDA: Synthetic Cannabinoids
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
Medical Reviewers
Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D. is a general surgeon practicing women's focused medici...
Dr. Goecke is a medical doctor and general surgeon with personal experience of...

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.

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