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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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FAQ: K2, Spice Gold, and Herbal 'Incense'

Legal Herbal Products Laced With Designer Drugs: Not Your Father's Marijuana

Are K2, Spice Gold, and other herbal incense products safe? continued...

Most of these drugs were created because they bind much more tightly to the body's cannabinoid receptors than THC does. THC, in fact, only partially binds to these important regulators of body function. Many of the synthetic cannabinoids fully activate the receptors.

"When you take these drugs, you are hijacking the part of the brain important for many functions: temperature control, food intake, perception, memory, and problem solving," Huestis says. "And people taking these high-potency drugs are affecting other important functions throughout their bodies -- hormone functions, for example."

Moreover, cannabinoids also bind CB2, the cannabinoid receptor that helps regulate the immune system.

Finally, all of the effects of these drugs may not become apparent for a long time. That's because they are stored in the body for a long period of time.

"The fact is these drugs have not been tested in humans, and we don't know what they could do," Huestis says. "There may be acute toxicity; there may be long-term toxicity. We don't know any of that."

And here's another alarming thing that isn't known. Tests show that even the same brand of one of these products may have different drugs -- in different amounts -- at different times. Since the synthetic cannabinoids are very powerful, even a small increase in dose can have much more powerful side effects.

And since these products are not regulated drugs, there's no way to know how big a dose you're getting. No drug is safe if you don't know what it is and how much of it you're taking.

What happens when a person smokes K2, Spice Gold, or other herbal incense products?

Before trying to find out what was in the herbal incense products, Auwarter wanted to know whether the products really had any activity.

So he took what is these days a very unusual step: He and a colleague tested the products on themselves.

They took a packet of a product called Spice Diamond and rolled 300 milligrams -- a tenth of the package -- into a cigarette paper. The two men shared the cigarette, so each consumed only a small dose of about 150 milligrams.

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