DRUG FACT SHEETAugust 27, 2022
WHAT IS K2?
K2/Spice synthetic marijuana are just two of the many trade names
or brands for synthetic designer drugs that are
intended to mimic THC, the main psychoactive
ingredient of marijuana. These designer synthetic
drugs are from the synthetic cannabinoid class of
drugs that are often marketed and sold under the
guise of “herbal incense” or “potpourri.”
Synthetic cannabinoids are not organic, but are
chemical compounds created in a laboratory. Since
2009, law enforcement has encountered hundreds
of different synthetic cannabinoids that are being
sold as “legal” alternatives to marijuana. These
products are being abused for their psychoactive
properties and are packaged without information as
to their health and safety risks.
Synthetic cannabinoids are sold as “herbal
incense” and “potpourri” under names like K2
and Spice, as well as many other names, at small
convenience stores, head shops, gas stations,
and via the Internet from both domestic and
international sources. These products are labeled
“not for human consumption” in an attempt to shield
the manufacturers, distributors, and retail sellers
from criminal prosecution. This type of marketing
is nothing more than a means to make dangerous,
psychoactive substances widely available to the
WHAT IS ITS ORIGIN?
The vast majority of synthetic cannabinoids are
manufactured in Asia without manufacturing
requirements or quality control standards. The
bulk products are smuggled into the United States
typically as misbranded imports and have no
legitimate medical or industrial use.
What are common street names?
There are numerous and various street names of
synthetic cannabinoids as drug manufacturers try
to appeal and entice youth and young adults by
labeling these products with exotic and extravagant
names. Some of the many street names of K2/Spice
synthetic marijuana are:
• “Spice, K2, Blaze, RedX Dawn, Paradise, Demon,
Black Magic, Spike, Mr. Nice Guy, Ninja, Zohai, Dream,
Genie, Sence, Smoke, Skunk, Serenity, Yucatan, Fire,
and Crazy Clown.
What does it look like?
These chemical compounds are generally found in
bulk powder form, and then dissolved in solvents,
such as acetone, before being applied to dry plant
material to make the “herbal incense” products.
After local distributors apply the drug to the dry
plant material, they package it for retail distribution,
again without pharmaceutical-grade chemical purity
standards, as these have no accepted medical use,
and ignoring any control mechanisms to prevent
contamination or to ensure a consistent, uniform
concentration of the powerful and dangerous
drug in each package. The bulk powder can also
be dissolved in solution intended to be used in
e-cigarette or other vaping devices.
How is it abused?
Spraying or mixing the synthetic cannabinoids
on plant material provides a vehicle for the most
common route of administration – smoking (using
a pipe, a water pipe, or rolling the drug-laced plant
material in cigarette papers). In addition to the
cannabinoids laced on plant material and sold as
potpourri and incense, liquid cannabinoids have
been designed to be vaporized through both
disposable and reusable electronic cigarettes.
What are its overdose effects?
Severe adverse effects have been attributed to
the abuse of synthetic cannabinoids, including
agitation, anxiety, seizures, stroke, coma, and
death by heart attack or organ failure. Acute
kidney injury requiring hospitalization and dialysis
in several patients reportedly having smoked
synthetic cannabinoids has also been reported by
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Which drugs cause similar effects?
Synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as an
alternative to THC, the main psychoactive
constituent of marijuana, however they are much
more potent and have been shown to cause side
effects that are more severe than those reported
What is its effect on the mind?
Acute psychotic episodes, dependence, and
withdrawal are associated with use of these
synthetic cannabinoids. Some individuals have
suffered from intense hallucinations. Other effects
include severe agitation, disorganized thoughts,
paranoid delusions, and violence after smoking
products laced with these substances.
What is its effect on the body?
State public health and poison centers have issued
warnings in response to adverse health effects
associated with abuse of herbal incense products
containing these synthetic cannabinoids. These
adverse effects included tachycardia (elevated heart
rate), elevated blood pressure, unconsciousness,
tremors, seizures, vomiting, hallucinations,
agitation, anxiety, pallor, numbness, and tingling.
This is in addition to the numerous public health
and poison centers which have similarly issued
warnings regarding the abuse of these synthetic
What is its legal status in the United States?
These substances have no accepted medical
use in the United States and have been reported
to produce adverse health effects. Currently, 43
substances are specifically listed as Schedule I
substances under the Controlled Substances Act
either through legislation or regulatory action. In
addition there are many other synthetic cannabinoids
that meet the definition for “cannabimimetic agent”
under the Controlled Substances Act and thus are
Schedule I substances.
There are many synthetic cannabinoid substances
that are being sold as “incense,” “potpourri,” and
other products that are not controlled substances.
However, synthetic cannabinoids may be subject
to prosecution under the Controlled Substance
Analogue Enforcement Act which allows non-
controlled drugs to be treated as Schedule I
controlled substances if certain criteria can be
met. The DEA has successfully investigated and
prosecuted individuals trafficking and selling
these dangerous substances using the Controlled
Substance Analogue Enforcement Act.