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Is K2/Spice the Same as Marijuana?

Synthetic cannabis drug K2 spice on a table.  

Marijuana use in teens is common. A report from 2018 showed that 43.6% of teenagers reported having tried marijuana in their lifetime by the time they reached the twelfth grade. With the increasing popularity of vape pens, teen vaping is also increasing at an alarming rate. 42.5% of twelfth graders reported trying vaping in their lifetime, which was a 6.7% increase from 2017.

Although such a large percentage of teens have tried marijuana, it remains illegal in many states and always illegal for minors to buy or possess. As an alternative, some teens will turn to K2, also known as spice, to get similar effects to marijuana. However, K2 is not the same as marijuana and can be much more dangerous.

What Is K2/Spice?

K2/spice is a synthetic form of marijuana that is not regulated. However, the active ingredients of K2 are not the same as the active ingredient of marijuana, which is THC. In fact, many times the synthetic marijuana ingredients are unknown to the consumer and can be dangerous. Even so, K2/spice is readily used by teens.

Spice vs. Marijuana

When comparing synthetic marijuana to real marijuana, there are many differences, including what they are made from, their appearance, how they are obtained and what effects they have on people.

Marijuana is made from dried leaves or other parts of cannabis plants. The active ingredients are found naturally in the plant and include THC and cannabidiol (CBD). K2/spice is made from plant extracts that are sprayed with synthetically produced cannabinoids, chemicals similar to CBD. There are many different types of cannabinoids but the type that is used to make K2/spice is not regulated or uniform across manufacturers.

K2/spice is often sold in plastic bottles or foil packaging and can be found on the internet or in some stores, whereas weed is still illegal in most states and is often bought on the streets. In states where marijuana is legal, it must be sold in specialty stores that specifically sell marijuana.

When considering the effects of weed versus K2/spice, both drugs can have mind-altering effects that make a person relaxed, elevate their mood and alter their perceptions. Cannabinoids in K2/spice act on the same receptors in the brain as THC from marijuana but to a different extent. It is thought that cannabinoids bind differently to those receptors, giving them a more intense effect, which can be dangerous.

Why Is Synthetic Marijuana Dangerous for Teens?

While the link between the detrimental effects of marijuana and teen brain development has been established, the effects that K2/spice on teenagers may be even more damaging. The ingredients of synthetic marijuana are not regulated and in many cases have more powerful effects on the brain than marijuana. This makes the use of K2 in teens very dangerous.

Some of the K2 synthetic marijuana dangers include:

  • Lack of regulation: One of the things that attracts teens to the K2/spice drug is that it is readily available. K2/spice is not regulated; in fact, synthetic marijuana is legal. The lack of regulation of the ingredients used to make it, and the concentration of synthetic cannabinoids that go into it, make it very dangerous to use.
  • High or unknown potency: One of the dangers of K2/spice is that the potency of synthetic cannabinoids can be very high or unknown. When teens smoke weed, they can at least have an idea of how much they are consuming. With K2/spice, they may be consuming much more than anticipated, which can lead to an overdose.
  • More addictive: When synthetic marijuana is abused, it can lead to a K2/spice addiction. Marijuana is also addictive, but K2/spice seems to be even more addictive. Teen addiction to K2/spice could lead to long-term side effects if not treated.
  • More intense effects: K2/spice effects on the body are similar to those of marijuana because they interact with the same receptors in the brain as THC from marijuana dose. However, the effects of K2/spice are often more intense, which can lead to worse and more dangerous side effects.

If you, someone you know, or your teenager is using K2/spice or marijuana, Next Generation Village is here to help. We have comprehensive treatment programs specific to teens that are struggling with a substance use disorder. Contact Next Generation Village today to speak with a representative about getting the help you need.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.


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