A Parent’s Guide to the Spice Drug

Featured Article, Growth and Development, Health and Safety

Since the dawn of time, parents have had a laundry list of things to worry about when their children became teenagers. First, it was being eaten by dinosaurs or flattened by runaway boulders. Then, it was the plague or famine. Following that was sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. And today, well, there’s a lot to be concerned about.

So let me put one more thing on your parental radar: Spice.

No, not cinnamon or nutmeg. Spice is a drug that popped up in the United States in 2008, and since then, it has gained popularity, especially with the teen crowd. Some questioned whether this drug was just a fad, but I believe it’s here to stay, and it’s time for parents to educate themselves on what Spice is and the dangers it poses.

What Is Spice?

Spice—known by many street names including “K2,” “fake weed” and “moon rocks”—is a blend of herbal materials and chemical additives that provide an experience similar to marijuana when smoked, ingested or injected. This synthetic cannabinoid can be purchased in gas stations, herbal shops and online stores at a reasonable price, and it’s often marketed as a safe and natural alternative to marijuana. But unbeknownst to many of its users, Spice has no medical benefits and can be quite dangerous and addictive.

It’s the chemical additives of Spice that are of major concern. Synthetic marijuana was declared illegal in the United States in July 2012, along with many of the chemical compounds used to make it. However, as the government banned different compounds, drug manufacturers changed the recipe and made a similar product with a compound that hadn’t yet been outlawed. This maneuver has resulted in more than 200 different formulations of Spice that exist today with unknown chemical additives that are completely unregulated.

The Stats Parents Need to Know

Due to the number of different formulations, the effects of Spice are somewhat unpredictable. Reported adverse reactions have included intense hallucinations, heart palpitations, heart attacks, psychotic behavior, kidney damage, and even death. Spice was involved in 11,406 emergency room visits in 2010, 75 percent of which involved patients ages 12 to 29.

A 2013 study found that Spice is the second most popular drug used by high school seniors (behind marijuana), with one in nine 12th graders reporting use. The same study found that 4.4 percent of 8th graders and 8.8 percent of 10th graders also reported using synthetic marijuana.

Why are teens continuing to use Spice despite its dangers? For one thing, it’s still easily accessible and affordably priced. Many teens reported being able to buy it online despite the laws and regulations. Secondly, many teens are under the misconception that Spice is natural and, therefore, safe. In reality, Spice can be much more potent than marijuana, and few teens are aware that the chemical additives in the drug are not only strong but also potentially dangerous.

How Parents Can Protect Their Teens

If you suspect that your teen is experimenting with Spice or any other drug, confronting them is not an easy task. But don’t assume that a teen’s Spice use is just a phase. Here are some steps you can take to protect your teens from the dangers of spice:

  • Communicate. Talk to your teens about the dangers of Spice even if you don’t suspect they’re using it. Tell them about the effects, adverse reactions and any real-life stories that could help dispel misconceptions they may have about the drug.
  • Make your position clear. Be sure your kids know your position on drugs and drug use, Spice included.
  • Check in frequently. Check in with your teens every day to understand what they are doing and how they are feeling. Monitor their before- and after-school activities as well.
  • Look for signs of use. Always be alert for physical or emotional signs that may point to drug use, including a loss in appetite, red eyes, changes in sleep patterns, a lack of interest, falling grades, sudden anger or irritation, and depression. Also, keep an eye out for any hidden or discarded drug packaging or paraphernalia. Spice often comes in small, silvery plastic bags and looks like dried leaves.
  • If necessary, seek help. If you know or suspect your teen is using Spice or any other drug, talk to someone who can help, whether it’s your child’s school counselor, a doctor or a drug recovery professional.

Some other helpful resources are the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), the Treatment Referral Routing Service helpline (1-800-662-HELP), the Poison Control Centers hotline (1-800-222-1222), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Today’s parents may not have to worry about T-rex attacks or infectious flea bites, but they do have plenty of other concerns. Making yourself aware of the potential dangers and temptations your teens may face—like the misconception that Spice is harmless, legal and natural—will help you talk with your teens and guide them through these formative years.


Zeynep Ilgaz


Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband co-founded Confirm BioSciences and TestCountry, where Ilgaz serves as president. Confirm BioSciences is committed to being on the cutting edge of offering new, service-oriented drug testing technologies.

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