Ancient cultures used spices like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg to enhance the taste of food, and perhaps to mask the scents and flavors associated with rotting meats. When refrigeration was decades away from entering the public consciousness, anything that could help to preserve food and make it palatable would be highly prized. Now, spices are used in kitchens to add a little zip to common foods and make even a bland meal seem just a little brighter. However, some drug dealers have stolen the word “spice,” and they’re using it in a completely different way. For these dealers, the drug spice is an ideal way to mask a humdrum life, making each day seem just a little more interesting. For those who take spice, unfortunately, the experience can be far from pleasant, and some may even find that their use reaches compulsive levels.
A Powerful Drug
According to researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, spice is a synthetic drug that’s designed to attach to receptors in the brain once used by marijuana. Once the molecules of the drug have attached to those receptors, users can experience sensations that are similar to those felt by people who take marijuana, including:
- Sensory distortion
- Happy mood
- Increased hunger
- People who take these drugs may also have experiences that aren’t similar to those felt by people who take marijuana.
For example, some people develop intense hallucinations while they’re under the influence of spice, and they may even feel paranoid and psychotic. This intense tangle of emotions can cause people to lash out at their friends and family members, and some people have even harmed themselves or others while they’re under the influence.
Some people who take spice also develop intense symptoms that might be uncommon to other people who take the drug. For example, in a German medical journal, researchers report on the case of a young man with attention-deficit hyperactivity syndrome, treated sporadically with medication. When this man took spice, he developed significant symptoms that merited a trip to the hospital, including blurred vision, staggering and an inability to recognize his friends. The researchers called this a “panic attack,” and while they’re not quite sure why it took place, they felt as though the spice was to blame.
Some people can take spice without experiencing negative side effects, but when they buy a new batch, they may have a sudden onset of misery that they never expected. This could be due, in part, to the manufacturing habits of people who make and sell these drugs. They’re working in clandestine laboratories located overseas, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, as well as tiny laboratories located in suburban communities. There’s no governmental insight over these facilities, since most producers mark their products with the words “not for human consumption.” This tiny marketing technique seems to allow drug dealers to skirt the laws and the consequences of making dangerous drugs, as they may claim that their products were never designed to enter a person’s body in the first place. With no oversight, people could put anything in these drugs at all, and it’s not uncommon for spice to be contaminated with dangerous chemicals or other drugs.
Drug manufacturers may also tweak the ingredients in the spice packets they make, ensuring that they’ll stay above the law if their facilities are raided and their products are seized by governmental officials. When German authorities banned a specific ingredient from spice in 2009, for example, according to a study in the journal Forensic Science International, samples of the drug taken months later had a different set of active ingredients. This kind of switch may seem transparent to users, who may not even know what’s in the drugs they take, but the reactions inside the body could be dramatically different. Perhaps one type wouldn’t cause harm while the other might. It’s a risk people who abuse spice might be taking on a regular basis.
Patterns of Abuse
Some people are lured into spice use because they believe the marketing techniques dealers use in order to push these drugs. They may believe that the drugs are safe because they’re somehow natural, for example, or they may believe that the drugs are banned only because the government wants to control what people can and cannot put into their bodies. These users may come to a very different set of realizations when they begin to study the drug and learn what’s really inside the packets they take, but they may never do so without prompting. The drugs look harmless and they’re sold in silly-looking online shops. They just don’t seem dangerous. Hoping that someone will come to a realization alone may be futile, as many people who take these drugs just believe that there’s no harm in the act.
Similarly, some people take these drugs and find it difficult to stop. While studies such as one in theAmerican Journal on Addictions haven’t been able to determine a specific chemical reaction that could cause an addiction to spice to bloom, and some users claim that the drug just isn’t addictive, other anecdotal reports suggest that some people who take spice just find it hard to stop. They like the way the drug makes them feel, deep down inside, and they may feel the need to take the drug again when there’s none available. The difference between people who are compulsive users and non-compulsive users may come down to the ingredient lists in the drugs these users take, but in the interim, it’s safe to suggest that people who take spice are dabbling with a drug that could become addictive.
Finding the abuse might be difficult, but family members can look for:
- Discarded metallic wrappers that contain tiny bits of materials that look like potpourri
- A scent of burning organic material permeating the person’s hair or clothing
- Missing money
- Increased requests for privacy
People who abuse spice may also abuse other substances at the same time, hoping to increase the sensations they feel or manage the distress they might experience when the drugs are gone. These poly-substance users may develop complex addictions to more than one substance, and they may need enhanced help in order to get better.
Help Is Required
While some people who abuse spice may be able to correct their behavior on their own and stop a little abuse from becoming a big problem, some users have a significant amount of difficulty with the idea of moving from intoxication to sobriety, and very little of that discomfort exists inside the person’s head. For example, in a study in the journal Deutsches Arzteblatt International, researchers report on the case of a man who experienced significant physical symptoms when he attempted to stop abusing spice, including headaches, nausea, tremors and sweating. The man also had a high blood pressure reading, and his heart was beating very quickly. The man likely felt as though something was terribly wrong with him, and in the past, he reported that he treated his symptoms by seeking out more spice to use and abuse. It’s a common practice in people with addictions.
Substances of abuse can cause persistent changes in brain function, meaning that people who take these drugs may eventually find it difficult or impossible to exist without the help of drugs. They feel sick and unhappy without their substances, and they may feel as though they just need a hit in order to keep from dying. That’s why a treatment program is so important. Here, people have access to medical monitoring that can allow them to avoid some of the more serious physical problems associated with withdrawal, and they have access to therapists who can remind them that their sensations are a normal part of the healing process from a drug addiction. People might be able to get clean from spice with help like this, and they might then move on to therapy programs that can help them learn how to preserve their sobriety.
These treatment programs are especially important for people who have underlying mental illnesses in addition to their addiction issues. For example, some people develop addictions in response to stresses they feel due to an underlying eating disorder. People with eating disorders, for example, may feel as though spice soothes their tension and allows the hours spent without eating to pass just a bit more quickly. Mental illnesses like this can make an addiction all the more persistent, as people with mental illnesses may be drawn back to drug use each time they feel a symptom of mental distress. Unfortunately, spice can make mental illnesses much worse, especially if the drug causes people to feel psychotic and out of control. A treatment program can be vital for people like this, as therapists can help people to untangle the connection between mental distress and spice use, so people can feel free to use their inner strength and their minds to feel happiness in life.
If you or someone you love is dealing with a spice addiction or you have an co-occurring disorder as well as a drug addiction, we’d like to help. At Futures of Palm Beach, we offer two tracks of care: one for people with addictions and another for people with eating disorders as well as addictions. Either program could be a perfect fit for your family, providing you with solutions you never envisioned. Please call our private admissions helpline to find out more.