What is K2? Understanding the Effects and Risks of this Synthetic Drug

What is K2? Understanding the Effects and Risks of this Synthetic Drug


What is K2?

K2, also known as synthetic marijuana or Spice, is a synthetic drug that is designed to mimic the effects of marijuana. However, unlike marijuana, K2 is often much more potent and can cause serious harm to users.

It is sprayed on dried plant materials and when consumed can alter a person’s mental state. K2 is also called as fake weed or synthetic marijuana since it produces effects similar to weed. People consume it through smoking and some people inhale through vaporizing the liquids. These products are sold as liquid or herbal incense.

K2 is also sold as Relax, Cloud 9, Yucatan Fire, Black Mamba, Blaze, Bliss, Scooby Snax, Zohai, etc. It is often packed as potpourri or incense in colorful slick packets and plastic bottles to attract people. However, these packages are commonly labeled as “not for human consumption” to circumvent the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.

Sometimes, the effects of K2 are distinct from weed and mostly much stronger. The chemical compounds used in K2 have no medical benefit, but has high possibility for misuse. Therefore, the active chemicals determined in the K2 have been declared as illegal by Drug Enforcement Administration.

Table of Contents:

Difference between K2 and Natural Weed

Synthetic cannabinoid such as K2/Spice and natural weed are different in chemical composition. Natural weed is a plant-based derivative whereas chemicals are sprayed on shredded plant materials to create K2 products.

K2 is a designer drug and classified as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS). Synthetic cannabinoids are chemically manufactured which mimic the effects similar to the THC compound found in organic marijuana. Initially, these substances were not regulated, which made it easier for the drug users to obtain synthetic drugs than the other regulated drugs. At present, there are numerous brands of synthetic cannabinoids available in the market, and these can be purchased through novelty stores, convenience stores as well as online.

Synthetic cannabinoids were initially designed by scientists for research purposes. When the production methods of these drugs were published in scientific and research journals, drug manufacturers used these methods to trade illicit drugs.

K2 and spice drugs are sometimes called as fake or synthetic weed because of its effects similar to natural weed. The chemical compounds present in K2 and Spice bind strongly to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and produce acute effects. Synthetic cannabinoids seem to be 100 times more powerful than THC.

Synthetic cannabinoids are consumed through smoking or brewing it as herbal tea. K2 is also available in liquid form and this is inhaled by vaporizing it with vaporizers, e-cigarettes and other devices. These inhalants are also known as liquid or herbal incense. People use these drugs by rolling the dried plants into joint or place them into pipes and inhale or smoke it. In some cases, people add these products to herbal tea or food and consume it.

Effects of K2

The chemical compounds in K2 are different from weed, but acts on the same brain cell receptors as THC, the active chemical compound in weed. Therefore, K2 is commonly associated with marijuana and referred as synthetic marijuana. The effects of K2 on the brain are more severe than the effects of marijuana. This makes the drug more dangerous and unpredictable.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), K2 lingers in the system for a long period and the effectiveness of the drug is still unknown.

People who consumed K2 experienced enhanced mood, delusions, a feeling of relaxation and altered perception. Psychotic effects produced by K2 are anxiousness, psychosis, confusion, hallucinations, delirium, etc. Short-term symptoms leading to hospitalizations include suicidal ideations, aggressive behavior, recurrent vomiting, increased heart rate and many more.

Consuming synthetic substances such as K2 can be life-threatening since the chemical composition is frequently altered to evade drug regulations. The effects from such type of drug can put users themselves at risk.

Is K2 Drug Addictive?

Yes, K2 or Spice can be addictive. Since marijuana is becoming legal in many states, many people misconceive synthetic cannabinoids to be safe and use it frequently. When K2 is consumed frequently, tolerance and dependence builds up. In order to get the same drug effects and avoid symptoms of withdrawal, a person will go on consuming more and more amounts of drug. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, depression, irritability, headache, etc.

There is no proved antidote to treat synthetic drug addiction. Physicians treat the symptoms and wait for the drug effects to diminish. It becomes difficult for the physicians to provide treatment due to the unknown chemicals present in the drug consumed.

Chemicals in K2 products vary from one another. Manufacturers produce these drugs in clandestine labs and frequently change chemical substances to bypass drug laws. People consuming such drugs are unaware of the chemicals added in these products and risk themselves each time they consume synthetic drugs. These drugs stay in the system for a long time and the effects of these drugs are unknown.

K2 Overdose

In order to get more effects of the drug, users may consume larger doses of the drug leading to overdosing. This can result in life-threatening consequences, coma and even death. Overdosing on synthetic cannabinoids may lead to:

  • Poisonous reactions
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Kidney damage
  • Epilepsy
  • Reduced blood supply to the heart
  • Altered mental state

If synthetic opioids are mixed with K2 without the knowledge of the user, it can result in fatality.

Origin of K2

When cannabinoid receptors were discovered, the researchers created synthetic cannabinoids to study the response of receptors and the role of endocannabinoid system in human during appetite, sleep, stress, suppression of nausea, pain, etc. Scientists then started to manufacture chemical compounds that mimicked the effects of cannabinoids physiologically.

The most popular chemical compound was JWH-018, which was never meant to be used as a street drug. The black-market developers managed to discover the synthetic cannabinoid formulation and started manufacturing synthetic drugs for recreational purposes.

Initially, the synthetic cannabinoids were recreationally used in Europe and then made its way through United States. It is consumed by dissolving in alcohol or acetone and sprayed onto dried shredded plant materials. The chemical components in synthetic cannabinoids are highly variable and most of the chemicals are deemed illegal.

United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has classified synthetic cannabinoids as Schedule I drug. These drugs are not intended for any medical purpose and have high potentiality for dependence.

Due to the unpredictability of chemical composition in the synthetic cannabinoids, people who use K2 may risk themselves since the strength of the chemical compounds is unknown. The chemical composition is undetectable even through toxicology screening and drug testing.

How is K2 Abuse Treated?

Synthetic cannabinoids are more commonly used by men between 20s and 30s. Many people use synthetic drugs along with other drugs to evade drug screening. Due to its low cost comparatively to other substances, it has become more common amongst the high school and college students as well as the low income group.

In acute cases of overdose of synthetic cannabinoids, administration of fluids intravenously is done to treat the imbalances of fluid and electrolytes. Anxiolytics are used to calm down psychological state due to K2 intoxication or symptoms of withdrawal like anxiety, emotional disturbance or irritability as well as anti-seizure medications to treat seizures or other symptoms. In some cases, antiemetic and antipsychotic drugs are also used to treat excessive vomiting, mania, agitation and psychosis. FDA-approved synthetic analogs are also utilized in the treatment of K2 withdrawal.

Psychotherapeutic treatments can be used to manage long-term synthetic cannabinoid use. There is not enough data available regarding long-term treatments for synthetic cannabinoids or K2, but there are reports suggesting K2 users seeking assistance for addiction.

Some effective treatments that have been employed for drug abuse include:

Individuals addicted to synthetic cannabinoids should immediately seek treatment since frequent use can cause severe and irreversible damage to mental and physical health as well as cognition.

Chemicals in K2

The chemical compounds present in the synthetic drugs act on the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain as THC does in natural weed. Some compounds include:

  • HU-210
  • Oleamide
  • CP 47,497
  • Homologues
  • JWH-018
  • JWH-398
  • JWH-073
  • JWH-250

Synthetic chemicals seem to be 100 times more powerful than the average THC compound found in weed. The stronger binding of the synthetic molecules to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain may lead to the effects like anxiety and psychosis in some users. The chemical composition of these designer drugs is unknown and some products are combined with other toxic chemicals which could result in severe and permanent impairment.

The chemicals used in the K2 products have a higher potential for misuse and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has identified many active chemicals that are considered illegal. Possessing, buying or selling any such products is considered illegal.

Is It Possible To Detect K2 on Drug Tests?

No, chemical substances in K2 is difficult to detect on drug screening or toxicology test. Synthetic chemicals are sprayed on plant materials to produce K2 drug, which is not detectable on the standard drug test panels. There are specialized tests to identify the chemical compounds present in synthetic cannabinoids. This type of test needs to be specifically requested, but is expensive and uncommon due to the frequently changing chemical compositions in synthetic cannabinoids.

Chemical compounds such as JWH018, JWH073 and HU-210 (known as cannabimimetics) are banned in competitive sports, and listed on the World Anti-Doping list. The active ingredients in K2 have a long half-life, and these drugs get stored in the human body for a prolonged period of time.

Is Synthetic Cannabinoids Unsafe?

Yes, the chemical substances in synthetic cannabinoids such as K2 and Spice frequently vary to circumvent existing drug laws. Every time a drug user consumes K2 products, the chemical composition and the dosage may not be the same. Such varying chemical composition could result in adverse effects such as reduced blood flow, low or high blood pressure, heart attacks, seizures, mood swings, coma and even death.

Since K2 products are sold as shredded plant materials, the drug users misconceive it to be natural substance such as weed. Due to its low cost, people with low income choose to buy synthetic cannabinoids and teenagers try experimenting these drugs out of curiosity.

If any individual consuming synthetic marijuana experiences severe symptoms, it is advisable to immediately seek medical attention. Seeking early intervention may be effective in reversing ill effects to a certain degree rather than later.

Bottom Line

Synthetic cannabinoids are manufactured illegally and are unregulated. These chemicals can be laced or sprayed with other toxic substances, which may result in adverse effects. Synthetic cannabinoids are sold by labeling their products “not for human consumption” or “for research purposes only” to evade drug laws.

Since some states have been legalizing marijuana, it is important to distinguish between synthetic cannabinoids and traditional weed before purchasing. Synthetic cannabinoids have variable chemical compositions and are much more intense than weed, and its effects are unpredictable.

It is advisable to be aware while purchasing such products and people using synthetic drugs should seek immediate medical attention before it is too late.

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