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Spice, K2 Use Falls in States With Legal Weed, Study Shows

Toxic exposure to dangerous drugs that mimic the structure and effects of THC fell in states that legalized cannabis, according to a new study—confirming the idea that nature knows best, and that cannabis is far safer (and more popular) than spice.

It’s not the leaf matter, but the powdered drug sprayed on smokable plants. In the U.S. and Canada, it’s called “spice” or “K2,” and in Turkey it’s called “bonsai.” In Japan, different varieties of compounds are popular called “dappo.” But all drugs in the class are essentially the same: synthetic compounds that mimic the intoxicating effects of THC. It is most often sprayed onto damiana in the United States, but almost all the varieties of THC are available sprayed on mixtures.

There are at least 450 different chemical compounds now being sold—often synthesized by amateurs, with dangerous consequences. They are willing to put their lives at risk just for passing a cannabis drug test.

These drugs became increasingly popular in the 2000s, and were at their boiling point by 2015. According to the ToxIC Registry, more than 42,000 people were exposed to spice drugs between 2010-2015. In 2016, New York City considered spice addiction an emergency. Experts estimated in 2017 that about half a million Turkish bonsai-smokers were regularly using the herb.

Is it possible for the situation to get even worse? The truth is that it could. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned in 2018 that spiked blood could cause additional effects for people who donate blood. However, this scare was caused by spice drug laced brodifacoum.

Legal weed seems to make spice less fashionable.

The Data: What it Shows

The study, titled “Synthetic cannabinoid poisonings and access to the legal cannabis market: findings from US national poison centre data 2016–2019,” analyzed data spanning three years, and was published online on August 8.

They found a marked drop in the toxic levels of spice drugs. This could be because most people like real spices.

“Adoption of permissive state cannabis policy was independently and significantly associated with 37% lower reported annual synthetic exposures,” researchers wrote, “relative to restrictive policies.”

States with adult-use cannabis were associated with 22% fewer reported quarterly exposures—and the opening of retail markets was associated with 36% fewer reported exposures, relative to states with only medical cannabis.

“Adoption of permissive cannabis law was associated with significant reductions in reported synthetic cannabinoid exposures,” researchers wrote. “More permissive cannabis law may have the unintended benefit of reducing both motivation and harms associated with use of synthetic cannabis products.”

People turn to spice because cannabis seems safer than cannabis.

CNN reported that the study showed that spice consumption is on the decline, especially in legalized states. Tracy Klein, assistant director for Washington State University’s Center for Cannabis Policy, Research and Outreach, is based in Vancouver, Washington. “These products are made in a powdered format and could be sprayed on or added to something that looks exactly like natural cannabis. So, in a party situation, I could see that someone could use this unintentionally,” Klein told CNN.

Spice: What’s the deal?

“Synthetic cannabinoids,” if you want to call them that, are nothing new, but one particular compound took off as a recreational drug.

JWH-018—the original spice drug compound—began as a research chemical for medical purposes. John W. Huffman synthesized JWH-018 (for which this compound is named) in 1995 to create one of the many synthetic cannabinoids.

Then circa 2004-2007 JWH-018 suddenly started appearing all over the internet—often marketed as “bonsai fertilizer.” Most likely the bonsai fertilizer tag was simply a front.

Lewis Nelson, a medical toxicologist at the NYU School of Medicine, said that it’s a poor decision to call these types of drugs “synthetic cannabinoids” as they behave far differently from organic cannabis.

Evidence is showing that the drugs are still very popular. For example, in New Haven, Connecticut over 100 people died after taking a K2 batch. As more states legalize and lower drug testing, spice usage is decreasing.