These synthetic drugs are known by many different names including spice, herbal incense, synthetic cannabis, herbal smoke, and potpourri. And within each of these marketing categories there are numerous brand names like Spice, Scentsi Star, Zombie Matter, etc. They are typically sold online or in head shops--novelty stores that sell cannabis paraphernalia. The substance generally comes in foil packages with colorful designs and labels and is relatively inexpensive costing $15-25 for 1-3 gram packages. In addition to not showing up on drug screenings, synthesized drugs have fruity or floral aromas that are not easily recognizable to non-users as mind-altering substances and are also usually labeled “not for human consumption.”
These synthetic drugs are created when “the synthetic cannabimimetrics, the active ingredient in these drugs, are dissolved in organic solvent (e.g. acetone) and sprayed over the entire plant mixture, creating an unregulated and unknown composition and purity that is associated with risks,” (Zawilska & Wojcieszak, 2014). The plant material in these mixtures contains numerous vegetal compounds, some of which are known for having psychoactive properties themselves, ground and blended together.
However, while synthetic cannabinoids are used to attain an experience similar to the use of marijuana, they are structurally different from THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in naturally occurring cannabis. Spice products can be distinguished by factors including “the presence of: (1) pronounced variations in the core structure of synthetic cannabimimetrics, (2) considerable inter- and intra-batch variability in smoking mixtures, both in terms of substances present and their quantity and (3) ever changing composition,” (Zawilska & Wojcieszak, 2014). Another risk factor associated with the variability and lack of regulation of these dangerous drugs is that, unlike the highly-potent undeclared ingredients in these drugs, the psychoactive plants listed on the package are often nonexistent within the packaged material. According to Griffifth, Sedefov, Gallegos & Lopez (2010), although some herbal mixtures may contain the plants stated, most samples of these drugs tested appear to contain inert vegetable matter. This further shows the dangerous nature of these drugs, when even the basic and non-active ingredients are incorrectly labeled. To further complicate things, “the development and production of ‘Spice’, as far as we are able to ascertain, took place in countries in the developing and transitional world—again where regulatory mechanisms may be weak or difficult to enforce,” (Griffifths et al. 2010).
These drugs have gained popularity over the last decade as an option for people who submit regularly to drug screenings or wish to avoid the risks of consuming an illegal product. Other reasons for choosing to use synthetic cannabis include curiosity, enjoyment of the effects, and also to aid in the reduction or cessation...