surprising dangerous new drug

Surprising, Dangerous New Drug

Cheryl Z.’s son was 15 when he first tried “Spice.” It seemed innocent enough. As a teenager he could walk into his local convenience store and buy both Spice, advertised as incense, and a small pipe to smoke it.

But Spice (or K2) is not so innocent. It’s a mixture of herbs and spices that are sprayed with a compound of chemicals that produce psychological effects similar to marijuana including panic attacks, giddiness and paranoia. However, according to the Partnership at, the paranoia that is associated with K2/Spice is closer to the psychological reaction to PCP than to the paranoia associated with marijuana. Other reported effects include rapid heart rate, seizures and suicidal thoughts. 

“Unlike marijuana, Spice doesn’t show up in a normal drug screen,” notes Robert Belfer, MD, professor of clinical pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania and director of the pediatric emergency department, CHOP at Virtua. “As teens and young adults show up in emergency rooms with symptoms of an altered mental state, agitation and heavy sweating, it takes a great deal more ‘digging’ to find out that Spice is causing these symptoms and not other drugs.”

After smoking Spice, Cheryl’s son reported intense highs that lasted 10 to 15 minutes, though recent reports note that the short-term effects can last anywhere from one to eight hours. Long-term effects are unknown, but it appears that it can be stored in body for long periods of time.

Outraged that her son could buy this synthetic “drug” in a convenience store as easily as he could buy a pack of gum, Cheryl contacted her local police to see what they were doing about it. The response was astounding – it wasn’t illegal, so they couldn’t do anything.

As of 2011 though, this is changing. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) designated the five active chemicals most frequently found in synthetic marijuana as Schedule I controlled substances, making it illegal to sell, buy, or possess them. In February 2012, New Jersey put a state ban on ALL synthetic marijuana. Any shop owners caught selling it now are subject to five years in prison and fines up to $25,000.

Regardless of its ban, Dr. Belfer warns parents to monitor their children with caution. “Dealers always find new ways to create these dangerous substances, so it’s critical for parents to stay connected with their kids and keep lines of communication open – especially when it comes to talking about drug use.”

So what can parents say to young people about the dangers of these drugs? The Partnership at offers these messages to share with your kids:

- Avoid putting anything in your body that would change your feelings or emotions – whether it is something you smoke, drink, take in pill form or shoot with a needle. The human brain is an incredible machine, and you need to be even more careful with a teenage brain because it is a work in progress.
- It is impossible to know what these drugs contain, who made them or what you are going to get.
- Getting high – no matter how – carries risks of making unsafe or unhealthy decisions.
- Just because a drug is legal – or is labeled as legal – does not mean that it is safe.
- We don’t know the long-term effects of synthetic drugs because the drugs are so new.

Updated January 13, 2022