Spice, often called K2, is a synthetic cannabinoid. Initially, synthetic cannabinoids like Spice were created in a lab to try and mimic the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) properties found in marijuana that have medicinal properties and can offer pain relief. These synthetic cannabinoids bind more tightly and successfully to cannabinoid receptors, like CB1, in the brain, making Spice and other synthetic cannabinoid formulations more potent and powerful than traditional marijuana.
Typically, Spice is a collection of plant material that is sprayed with a formulation of a synthetic cannabinoid, and it is usually smoked. It also can be found marketed as a liquid for vape pens or sometimes laced into edibles or pressed into tablets. Spice is often sold as an “herbal supplement” or “liquid incense.”
Spice and synthetic cannabinoids can be extremely unpredictable, and the psychoactive side effects can be dangerous and even deadly. Since these drugs are not regulated and made in clandestine labs illegally, each batch is different and, therefore, produces variable side effects.
There are more than 130 known forms of synthetic cannabinoids, or cannabimimetics. Per the World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics, these drugs can have a much longer half-life than traditional marijuana, the psychoactive effects can last longer, and these drugs stay in the body for a longer duration of time.
The half-life of a drug is the amount of time it takes your body to break the drug down halfway, so by doubling the half-life, you can usually determine how long the drug will technically be active in the bloodstream. Drugs can remain present in the body longer than they are active, however. Just because the effects have worn off, it doesn’t mean the drug is no longer detectable through a drug test.
Since there are so many different forms of synthetic cannabinoids, it can be difficult to say for certain how long Spice will take to process out of the body completely. Each batch can be chemically different from the last, and this can affect the drug’s metabolism and rate of detox.
Drugs such as Spice are metabolized through the liver. Even though synthetic cannabinoids are called “fake weed” and often thought of as alternatives to marijuana, they are chemically different enough that a traditional drug test looking for the marijuana metabolite will not pick them up. Urine drug tests have to be specialized to include the parent metabolite of the particular version of the synthetic cannabinoid that is suspected since the drug itself is broken down rather quickly and not detectable itself for very long after ingestion.
A urine drug test generally does not screen for substances like K2 that are deemed “not intended for human consumption.” As one chemical compound of a synthetic cannabinoid is discovered and banned, others are continually being made illicitly to replace it. It can be difficult for labs doing the drug testing to keep up.
The United States Drug Testing Laboratories (USDTL) reports that in a sampling of hair drug tests that did turn up positive for a synthetic cannabinoid through specialized testing, they also tested positive for at least one other “regular” illicit drug. The conclusion was that it was often cost prohibitive and not necessary to screen for drugs like Spice specifically, as typically a person using it was also going to have a positive drug test for another drug already.
Hair drug tests can show a pattern of drug use for up to three months, the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) publishes. Spice may still be present in your hair for up to 90 days or even potentially longer.
Blood, hair, urine, and oral fluid (saliva) drug tests can all detect synthetic cannabinoids through specialized drug testing. Some compounds of synthetic cannabinoids, or rather their metabolites, can be detectable via a urine drug test for up to three days after the last use of the drug. A blood drug test can usually only serve to tell whether or not a person is actively under the influence of a particular drug, which for Spice can be between two and seven hours after taking it, depending on the chemical compound involved. Some synthetic cannabinoids can remain active in the bloodstream for up to a day or two, and therefore may be detectable that long through a blood test.
Oral fluid, or saliva, drug testing can detect Spice about 20 minutes to an hour after inhaling the drug. In the case of JWH-018, a common synthetic cannabinoid that has an average elimination half-life of just over 1.5 hours, oral fluid tests can detect the compound for up to 12 hours after inhaling it, per the journal Drug Testing and Analysis.
There are so many different variations of synthetic cannabinoids that it can be difficult to know exactly how each one will affect you and also how it will process out of your body. Detox is the processing of toxins like Spice out of the body completely. Several things can influence how fast this will happen.
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One contributing factor is your metabolism. Someone with a fast metabolism is more likely to detox from Spice faster. Things like body mass, gender, race, age, hydration level, food consumption, and liver and kidney function can all affect metabolism rates.
It also can make a difference how often and how much Spice is used on a regular basis. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns that Spice can be addictive, and someone battling addiction and using Spice at high doses frequently for a long time may take longer to fully detox from it than a more casual user.
In general, the following timeline can be useful in determining how long it takes Spice to leave certain parts of the body for a drug test:
To know that a drug test will not come back positive for Spice, it first depends on the type of test being used, and, as previously mentioned, many regular drug tests do not even check for synthetic cannabinoids. If the test checks for the version of synthetic cannabinoid being used, then it is important to know exactly the last time the drug was used. For anything other than a hair drug test, it is likely that the drug will be completely processed out of the body within a few days at maximum, and most drug tests will not detect it days to a week after the last dose.
Spice is unpredictable in its potential effects, and it is not completely understood exactly how different variations of these synthetic cannabinoids work on the brain or body. Many forms of synthetic cannabinoids are new and untested, and new variations show up almost daily. This can mean that it is not a perfect science when it comes to knowing how long detox of Spice can take.
In preparation for a drug test, it can be helpful to drink a lot of water, exercise regularly, eat healthy and nutritious meals, and obviously stay away from using mind-altering substances for at least a week. A specialized professional medical detox program can help with the potential withdrawal symptoms from Spice and can also help to speed the detox process along in some cases.
(February 2017). Why Synthetic Marijuana Like K2 or Spice Can Cause "Really Bizarre" Symptoms. CBS News. Retrieved October 2018 from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/why-synthetic-marijuana-k2-spice-weed-isnt-safe/
(February 2016). Synthetic Cannabinoids 2015: An Update for Pediatricians in Clinical Practice. World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics. Retrieved October 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4737689/
(2014). Challenges in Drugs of Abuse Testing. Clinical Chemistry, Immunology and Laboratory Quality Control. Science Direct. Retrieved October 2018 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/synthetic-cannabis
(August 2017). Synthetic Cannabinoids and Drug Testing. United States Drug Testing Laboratories. Retrieved October 2018 from http://www.usdtl.com/media/mediaarticles/synthetic-cannabinoids-and-drug-testing
(April 2018). Pharmacokinetic Properties of the Synthetic Cannabinoid JWH-018 In Oral Fluid After Inhalation. Drug Testing and Analysis. Retrieved October 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28967189
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(February 2018). What are Synthetic Cannabinoids? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved October 2018 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cannabinoids-k2spice