In the late 2000s, a formidable and deceptively affordable drug, colloquially known as “spice” or K2, stealthily infiltrated the lives of individuals across the United States.
The period between 2009 and 2015 witnessed a staggering surge in Poison Control Center calls related to K2, skyrocketing from 14 to an alarming 3,572.
Certain regions bore the brunt more than others, with New York City reporting 130 K2 overdoses in a single week in 2016, and New Haven, Connecticut, grappling with 95 overdoses over a two-day span in 2018.
The situation in Washington, DC, reached a critical juncture in 2019, witnessing a 128% increase in K2 side effects-related overdoses, surpassing 1,000 cases in September alone. This raises the pressing question: What is K2, and how does it impact the human brain?
What is K2 Drugs
K2, also known as spice, belongs to a group of synthetic cannabinoids, a category of designer drugs crafted by infusing man-made chemicals into dried plant material.
As a designer drug, its composition mimics but does not precisely replicate cannabis, making it legally distinct in states where marijuana remains illicit. Despite its molecular kinship with cannabis, K2 synthetic exerts a far more potent influence on the brain.
Acting on the same cannabinoid receptors that respond to THC in marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids like those found in spice K2 emerge as full agonists, provoking a response up to 660 times more powerful than traditional cannabis.
The affinity of synthetic cannabinoids for these receptors surpasses that of THC by 4-5 times, shedding light on their association with severe psychiatric symptoms, including psychosis.
The repercussions of spice smokers use of K2 extend beyond the typical effects of cannabis. Users grapple with heightened risks of seizures, vomiting, strokes, elevated blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, chest pain, kidney failure, heart attacks, and, in some cases, death.
The prevalence of cannabinoid receptors in crucial areas of the brain, such as the cerebral cortices, striatum, and hippocampus, emphasizes the impact on cognition, memory, and executive functions.
The stress response system, modulated by these receptors, becomes a focal point, linking stress relief—often a motivation for spray K2 use—to the drug’s heightened potency and its potential to exacerbate psychiatric conditions.
The Origins of K2
The roots of synthetic cannabinoids go back as far as the 1980s when the discovery of cannabinoid receptors fueled scientific curiosity. Chemist John Huffman’s creation, JWH-018, marked a pivotal point as a compound mirroring THC’s effects.
However, the unintended consequences unfolded as black-market developers capitalized on this research, producing synthetic cannabinoids for recreational use.
Europe witnessed an initial surge in the mid-2000s, followed by the United States in the early 2010s. Dissolved in alcohol or acetone, these compounds find their way onto plant material, disguised in packages labeled as incense, potpourri, or herbal blends—camouflaging their true nature.
The regulatory landscape surrounding synthetic cannabinoids has proven challenging. Classified as a Schedule I drug by the DEA since 2010, the continuously evolving chemical composition of these substances introduces a loophole, as newer strains often feature yet-to-be-classified chemicals.
The “not for human consumption” disclaimer further complicates matters, enabling retailers to contest the DEA’s restrictions on ban K2. This variability poses significant risks to users, as the unknown chemical makeup defies detection through standard drug tests and toxicology screenings.
K2 Use: Demographics and Patterns
Synthetic cannabinoids, particularly k2 liquid spray, find a niche among men in their 20s and 30s, a demographic drawn to its evasion of conventional drug screenings.
Low-income individuals, predominantly in areas like New York State, face a heightened prevalence. Additionally, high school and college students succumb to its allure, fueled by accessibility and cost-effectiveness relative to other substances.
Treatment Challenges and Approaches
Addressing acute K2 and Spice spray overdoses requires swift measures, including intravenous fluids to rectify electrolyte imbalances and benzodiazepines to alleviate mood symptoms and seizures. Quetiapine, an antipsychotic, proves beneficial in managing adverse mood symptoms.
Long-term management of chronic K2 use necessitates psychotherapeutic interventions, drawing from successful approaches to other substance misuse disorders. Medication-assisted therapies, cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and trauma-focused therapies emerge as effective strategies.