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Spice, fake weed, K2 — whatever you want to call it, this drug isn't the innocent herbal mixture dealers would have you believe. Here's why to stay far away from synthetic cannabinoids.

"Spice" could just be the ideal drug — offering the same kind of high you get from marijuana, it allows you to evade positive drug test results because it doesn't contain THC, the active ingredient in weed. It may even be legal in your jurisdiction. If it isn't, though, don't worry: manufacturers constantly change the chemical make-up of the drug to stay a step ahead of the law, and the drug is easily obtainable both in person and online. 

That is, at least, what drug dealers would like you to believe. Is that really the full story, though? What exactly is "spice", how does it work, and is it safe to take? 

Spice: Not What You Think It Is

What exactly is "spice"? Or K2, Joker, Kronic, Kush, and Black Mamba? Sold in colorful packages, online often as bonzai fertilizer or incense, it goes by many names and tends to be marketed as a herbal mixture. Though it contains some visible plant materials, calling it a herbal mixture is nothing short of misleading, as the active ingredient, the bit that makes you stoned, is 100 percent synthetic. We know what it isn't, then — it isn't "all natural". What is it, though? That question is rather hard to answer. The packages, which frequently contain the logo of some kind of eye and may be sold under any of the above names as well as others, can be filled with widely varying compounds, you see. 

The compound that first became known as spice was not cooked up in a drug dealer's lab but invented over the course of perfectly respectable medical research, by John Huffmann and fellow researchers from Clemson University in South Carolina. They created hundreds of compounds that, like marijuana, act on the brain's cannabinoid receptors, publishing the results of their research in 2006. As any medical marijuana advocate will tell you, you'll experience pain relief as well as getting stoned if your cannabinoid receptors are triggered — so it's easy to see why pharmaceutical researchers would be interested. Among the formulations they invented was JWH-018, a compound that Huffman himself declared "unfit for human consumption".

When "fake weed" or "synthetic marijuana" first started appearing on the streets in 2008, law enforcement agencies discovered that they were dealing with none other than this JWH-018. 

Since that time, more and more countries around the world have been rushing to outlaw the compound — but drug manufacturers keep on altering the chemical make-up, and specific varieties of "the drug" may not be regulated at any given time. This also means that, when you buy a synthetic cannabinoid, you may end up consuming any one of hundreds of different compounds. Exactly how strong the stuff you may want to smoke is is impossible to predict! 

"Spice" isn't one drug at all then, but a jumbled mess of lab-created synthetic cannabinoids that may get you high and may help you avoid positive drug tests, but that could be far more dangerous than marijuana. 
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