What Is K2/Spice?

K2 or “spice” is a synthetic, psychoactive cannabinoid made with chemicals to create effects similar to marijuana. Sometimes K2 is described as synthetic marijuana or fake weed, but it’s not. Synthetic cannabinoids are not safe or legal alternatives to marijuana and the effects of so-called synthetic marijuana are much more powerful than the effects of real marijuana on the brain.

K2/spice is unregulated and it’s often marketed as a safe way to get mind-altering effects. These substances are sold under different brand names.

The legality of K2 is a gray area. The chemicals used to make spice don’t have a medical benefit and they have high abuse potential, so they have largely been made illegal. Even so, many manufacturers have found ways around these laws by using different types of chemicals in their products.

Synthetic cannabinoids are most often used by smoking the dried plant material. Sometimes K2 or spice is brewed as a tea, or it’s used as a vaporized liquid in e-cigarettes.

Spice Ingredients

K2 spice is made of dried plant material and herbs. Colors can include brown, red and beige. The ingredients that lead to the psychoactive effects of K2 are synthetic chemicals that are used to coat the plant material.

Depending on the ingredients used in K2, it can be 100 times stronger than THC from marijuana. There isn’t just one ingredient or material used to make synthetic marijuana, and depending on the manufacturer and where it comes from, there can be many different chemicals in K2. Many of the chemicals used to make K2 are from China or Russia.

Side Effects of K2

Along with the possibility of psychosis, tolerance and dependence, what are the side effects of K2/spice? Some of the potential side effects of K2/spice include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Violence
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Vomiting
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Reduced blood supply to the heart
  • Kidney damage
  • Death

Dangers of K2/Spice

Using synthetic cannabinoids affects the same receptor sites in the brain as THC, which is the psychoactive substance in marijuana. Effects of K2 can include euphoria or an elevated mood, a sense of relaxation and altered perception. However, why is K2 spice so dangerous? There are quite a few reasons including the potential for psychosis-like symptoms to occur. Symptoms of psychosis from K2 can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusional thinking
  • Detachment from reality

Between 2011 and 2017 there were more than 31,000 calls to poison control centers in the United States related to the use of spice.

It’s also possible for K2/spice to have toxic additives. For example, some spice may contain brodifacoum which is in rat poison. People who use that form of K2 can experience severe nose bleeds and internal bleeding, among other symptoms.

The use of K2 or space can lead to tolerance and dependence as well. If someone is dependent on K2 and they stop using it suddenly, symptoms of withdrawal can arise and include headaches, changes in mood and irritability.

If you are struggling with K2/spice or another substance, contact The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake and learn more about treatment programs. With professional, individualized treatment programs, patients can address their substance use disorder alongside any co-occurring mental health disorders that are preventing them from living a healthy life.


NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice).” February 2018. Accessed April 9, 2019.

L.Anderson, PharmD. “Synthetic Marijuana-Spice or K2.” Drugs.com. November 13, 2016. Accessed April 9, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake 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.