Spice is the name of the designer drug that is the most well-known synthetic version of marijuana. It was a type of legal high in the UK that contained THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, as well as synthetic cannabinoids. Looking similar to what is often referred to as “weed”, it appears to be made up of organic materials that represent marijuana plants. 

Spice use in the UK started between 2008 and 2009 when it started to be sold legally for non-human consumption by head shops that sell a range of things, including crystals and incense, and online sellers. It is also known as “K2”, “AK-47”, “kush” and “kronic”. For the purposes of this article, we will be using the name “spice”.

What Is Spice?

Spice is a designer drug made out of synthetic chemicals that replicate the effects of marijuana. Due to the psychoactive effects of spice, it is now a class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 — but it started out as a “legal high”.

As with other types of designer drugs, new chemical compounds that are not banned and are just as, if not more, addictive than the original drug are constantly entering the UK market. They are sold in the form of potpourri or incense to sidestep legislation and are potentially even more harmful. 

The Story Behind Spice Addiction in the UK

There were many reasons why spice quickly became popular in the drug-taking world — firstly, people knew that it could be smoked like marijuana, and it very quickly became an easy-to-find alternative. On top of that, spice is legal, easy to purchase and considerably cheaper than marijuana, and often, people found the effects of it even more potent than even the strongest weed. The combination of this created an addiction storm surrounding the new legal high, and many were caught up in its grips.

As with other legal highs, spice was initially considered to be safe by many users, but addiction soon became a real problem for many people who used it. 

Even short-term use can result in spice addiction, and withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Spice addiction can be difficult to deal with, but it can be overcome. Residential rehab for addiction and outpatient addiction therapy frequently start with a medical detox, which is accompanied by extensive counselling. 

This will assist with withdrawal symptoms and learning the causes of spice addiction, as well as helping find effective coping mechanisms for cravings and triggers. If you or someone you know wants to stop a spice addiction, residential rehab can help and can also prevent a relapse.

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NHS Spice Addiction Treatment

The NHS offers addiction treatment with medical care. This is normally in outpatient settings as it’s difficult to get into residential rehab treatment on the NHS, with only the most serious and urgent instances of drug or alcohol addiction being accepted. You must fulfil crucial criteria to be considered, and you will almost always need to have actively participated in outpatient addiction treatment beforehand.

The NHS does not have its own residential rehab centres and will instead fund attendance at a private facility. You may have some choice as to where you go, but it will be limited, and funding generally means it will be a rehab with a high patient-to-staff ratio. 

During spice addiction treatment at a residential rehab facility, you’ll receive an intensive daily rehabilitation programme. Normally, your treatment will combine arranged therapy sessions, group sessions and recreational activities that will help you create new behavioural patterns.  

Spice addiction is treated at Step by Step Recovery’s residential rehab in Essex, and if a bed becomes available, our staff could potentially schedule same-day admission. 

For free, private advice, please fill out our online evaluation form or give us a call at 0800 170 1222.

The Truth about Spice Addiction

There is a high danger of abuse and addiction to spice. Although people might first think they are in control with regard to how much and how often they use spice, dependency and addiction pose major risks. As tolerance increases, more regular use and greater amounts are needed to produce a comparable effect.

Unfortunately, spice addiction may be very difficult to detect. Signs of drug addiction include being incapable of restricting intake, constantly thinking about the next use and feeling anxious about purchasing more when supply is low.

Spice Addiction: Signs and Symptoms

It can be challenging to recognise the warning signs and symptoms of spice addiction, particularly if the drug is used irregularly. Among the most prevalent physical and psychological signs that indicate use of spice include the following:

  • Appearing relaxed or in a zombie-like state
  • Feeling happy and getting the giggles
  • Talkative 
  • Slurring speech
  • Slow in responding to questions and in conversations
  • Seeming sleepy and not aware of what is going on around them
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia and anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Loss of coordination
  • Coughing and wheezing.

Additional signs of spice addiction include: 

  • Unpleasant or unusual smell on clothing
  • Disengagement from friends and relatives
  • Financial problems
  • Avoiding education or employment
  • Regular absence from home
  • Decreased enthusiasm in pursuits that were always routine
  • Not fulfilling personal and family responsibilities, such as taking children to school.

Risks of Spice Addiction

Because spice is a synthetic chemical compound and there is no regulation of what it contains, the long-term risks are not completely known. 

The risks of using spice and other synthetic designer drugs are in part related to the unknown composition of the chemicals and include:

  • Serotonin syndrome, which can be fatal
  • Lung damage (when smoked)
  • Kidney damage
  • Cardiovascular disorders
  • Seizures and brain haemorrhage
  • Brain damage
  • Psychosis.

Spice Danger Signs

Call 999 when you or anybody you are aware of has used spice and experiences convulsions, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, confusion, excessive sweating, vomiting or losing consciousness. Such symptoms could be a result of an allergic reaction, poisoning or serotonin syndrome, all of which have the potential to be fatal if not treated right away.

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Spice Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

Your brain’s processes adapt and change after using spice, regardless of the type you use. Spice addiction withdrawal symptoms can occur very quickly after it leaves your body and its properties suddenly stop. People may experience a number of withdrawal symptoms if they decide to stop using spice, such as:

  • Severe cravings
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Stomach pain and diarrhoea
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Paranoia
  • Nervousness
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Delusions and psychosis.

The duration of use, quantity and other factors, including your age and physical and mental health, will all affect how severe these side effects can become. 

At Step by Step Recovery, we provide private residential rehab in Essex for spice addiction. In order to assist individuals in succeeding in overcoming addiction, we offer medically assisted detox and responsive counselling. Please complete our online assessment form or call our compassionate team free of charge at 0800 170 1222 if you need advice about addiction treatment.

Spice Addiction FAQ

As more patients are being treated for spice addiction, the risks of combining alcohol and spice are just now being discussed in medical settings. It is challenging to treat a potential spice overdose when alcohol has also been consumed. 

Managing the effects on the brain and body systems is more difficult since combining alcohol and spice will affect how long they remain in the body and how the liver processes them. Additionally, current research indicates that the use of spice and alcohol together raises the likelihood of severe liver damage. 

To get around the law, new synthetic versions of marijuana are created that are not illegal — as long as they are sold as a product not meant for human consumption, such as in the form of incense. 

This does not mean they are safer than spice; in fact, they are likely to be more harmful, as chemists find ways to make these substances more potent when they change the chemical composition. Any substance sold with a warning that it is not for human consumption is unregulated and can contain chemicals that are toxic and potentially lethal.

In the UK, spice has also been attributed to several deaths. In America, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning regarding “severe illnesses and deaths” brought on by the use of toxic synthetic marijuana products in a number of states.

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Page revised in March 2023, by Danielle Byatt, a Level 4 addictions counselling, Level 5 in Leadership & Management, BA applied social work. and Treatment Director at Step by Step Recovery.

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