Synthetic Cannabis (Spice/K2)
Synthetic Cannabis (Spice/K2)

Synthetic Cannabis (Spice/K2)

Blog and Opinions Red Slashes Mar 18, 2016
By: Wayne St. John

What is synthetic cannabis?

Synthetic Cannabis is a psychoactive designer drug derived of natural herbs sprayed with synthetic chemicals, that when consumed attempt to mimic the effects of marijuana. Street names include K2 and Spice. Like marijuana, “spice” is a psychoactive drug that is typically smoked or swallowed. “Spice,” however, does not contain any real marijuana. Instead, it is a mix of herbs sprayed with man-made compounds that mimic the effects of marijuana. Because of this similarity it is illegal to produce, buy, or sell products, such as “spice,” that contain these compounds. Different mixes of “spice” exist, and the exact ingredients of these blends vary and are not indicated on the product wrapping. While the packaging constantly changes, “spice” is usually sold in small, sealed foil packets or in transparent pouches. It is often labeled “not for human consumption” and can resemble incense and potpourri.


What are the drugs effects?

The lack of information on “spice”, and the large number of different blends, makes it difficult to predict its effects. There is also a risk of adverse effects caused by other chemicals that may be added to “spice.” The effects are often similar to those produced by marijuana, though far more potent and at a significantly higher risk.

The chart below shows what Health Canada has documented as the most common physiological effects.

Short-Term Effects

Long-Term Effects

  • increased heart rate
  • shortness of breath/chest pain
  • high blood pressure/heart attack
  • dry mouth
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dizziness and light-headedness
  • extreme anxiety and panic attacks
  • euphoria (“high”)
  • severe agitation/tremors
  • unrealistic fears (paranoia)/psychosis
  • visual distortions and hallucinations
  • trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • an altered sense of time and space
  • short-term memory loss (amnesia)
  • confusion
  • seizures/convulsions
  • suicide


Long-term effects can result from long-term, regular use of “spice”, and may persist long after drug use has stopped. Some of these effects can also occur even after using the drug only once.

Long-term effects may include:

  • irritation of the respiratory passages
  • cognitive changes and cognitive impairment
  • psychotic episodes or schizophrenia in susceptible individuals



Is synthetic cannabis detectable on drug tests?

Like most designer drugs, detection is challenging when they emerge into the market place. There has been action taken by both the Canadian and United States governments to include the common constituents into the Controlled Substance Schedule. Due to the number of chemical variants, and the ease in which the chemical structures can be altered to avoid detection, reliable forensic testing will have difficulty keeping up with the evolution of this drug.

Currently, employers are encouraged to educate their staff for both their personal safety, and the safety of their family. This is due to the fact that side effects of this designer drug have demonstrated unpredictable outcomes, and are not consistent from purchase to purchase. Awareness training is the key tool to address this hazard in the workplace, as it is with any drug that falls outside the current testing standards.


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