Drug “Spice”: More severe withdrawal symptoms than cannabis


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  • Research published by psychologists at the University of Bath suggests that “Spice“, which contains synthetic drugs originally designed to mimic the effects of cannabis, is more harmful than cannabis and that users are likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit.


    Research published by psychologists at the University of Bath suggests that "Spice", which contains synthetic drugs originally designed to mimic the effects of cannabis, is more harmful than cannabis and that users are likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit.

    More than two-thirds (67%) of the participants they observed, who tried to give up Spice, said they experienced at least three withdrawal symptoms after trying to quit, including problems sleeping, irritability and a bad mood. It was significantly worse than for people trying to quit cannabis.

    The drug Spice, popular with homeless people and prisoners

    Spice is a colloquial name given to a class of drugs called “synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists”, often abbreviated as “SCRA”. These drugs are produced synthetically and are usually sprayed on a plant material that looks like cannabis and can be smoked.

    Because of its ease of access and to avoid detection on drug tests, Spice is sometimes used as a substitute for cannabis (or other drugs), especially among people who are homeless or in prison. Although they act on the same receptors in the brain, Spice is much more potent than cannabis, which can make it more addictive and increase the severity of withdrawal.

    Withdrawal is the experience of unpleasant symptoms when stopping or suddenly decreasing the intake of a medicine that has been used in large quantities for a long time. This happens when the body tries to adjust to the lack of medication, which can last for about two weeks and may cause people to use more of the medication to relieve these symptoms. The more severe the withdrawal symptoms, the more difficult it may be to stop taking this medicine.

    Much more abrupt withdrawal symptoms

    In this study, published in Psychopharmacology, researchers in the Addiction and Mental Health group in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath asked a sample of participants who use both Spice and cannabis to compare their effects on different measures.

    Their ratings were designed to indicate the likelihood of a drug causing long-term harm, such as the severity of withdrawal symptoms, the duration of effects, and how quickly tolerance develops (meaning that larger amounts drug are needed to produce the same effect as above). They also asked the participants what withdrawal symptoms they experienced when they tried to quit.

    Participants consistently rated the effects of Spice as more harmful than cannabis, noting that these effects were quicker onset but lasted less than cannabis. However, participants reported that tolerance to the effects develops faster for Spice, which means people may need to use larger doses more regularly to get the same effect as before.

    Cannabis and Spice, same danger?

    Participants also rated the withdrawal symptoms to be more severe than those from cannabis, which means it may be more difficult for them to quit. Symptoms that participants reported after attempting to stop using spices included trouble sleeping, irritability, low mood, heart palpitations, and an overwhelming urge (a strong desire to use more medication).

    The study included 284 people participating in the Global Drug Survey who have already tried to stop using Spice. This is the largest study ever on Spice withdrawal and the first to compare the severity of symptoms with those of cannabis.

    Sam Craft, senior author and PhD student funded by the Medical Research Council, explained: “Although originally produced as a legal alternative to cannabis, our findings show that Spice is a drug causing much more severe withdrawal symptoms. It is therefore important that more effort be made to ensure that Spice is not used as a substitute for cannabis or any other drug and people with problems with Spice should be supported with treatment. ”

    Dr Tom Freeman, senior author and director of the Addiction and Mental Health group at the University of Bath added: “These findings identify severe withdrawal symptoms as a key clinical problem in people using Spice, and underscore the urgent need for develop treatments to fight against this addiction.

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