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Substance Showdown: Marijuana v Spice

Marijuana and Spice (synthetic marijuana) are interchangeable, right? At least that’s what I used to think. When I ran out of marijuana and couldn’t get ahold of my dealer, I would run to the gas station and buy a pouch of Spice. It was still legal at the time. I figured, “this will hold me over til I can get the real stuff.” I noticed that smoking Spice was more potent than pot: my ‘high’ was higher, and so was my anxiety. Let’s take a closer look at each of these substances to see which one is worse or, more harmful. We will look at three categories of comparison and choose a winner for each. The substance that “wins” more rounds will be declared the winner and, therefore, the one that is more dangerous.

Marijuana vs. Spice: Let the substance showdown begin!




  • Distorted perceptions
  • impaired coordination
  • difficulty with thinking and problem solving
  • disrupted learning and memory
  • temporary psychotic reaction (involving hallucinations and paranoia)
  • anxiety,
  • suicidal thoughts among adolescents
  • personality disturbances
  • lack of motivation to engage in typically rewarding activities



Frequent marijuana smokers can have many of the same respiratory problems experienced by tobacco smokers:

  • daily cough and phlegm production
  • more frequent acute chest illness
  • heightened risk of lung infections

Withdrawal symptoms:

  • irritability
  • sleeplessness
  • decreased appetite
  • anxiety
  • drug craving




Some cases the effects are even stronger than those of marijuana.

  • elevated mood, relaxation, and altered perception
  • extreme anxiety
  • paranoia
  • hallucinations


Spice abusers who have been taken to Poison Control Centers report symptoms that include:

  • rapid heart rate
  • vomiting
  • agitation
  • confusion,
  • hallucinations
  • raised blood pressure and cause
  • reduced blood supply to the heart
  • heart attacks (in a few cases)

Personally, I have witnessed someone having a seizure after smoking Spice. It was scary and alarming.

Withdrawal symptoms:

Regular users may experience withdrawal and addiction symptoms similar to those of marijuana users.

The WINNER of ROUND 1 is SPICE because it clearly causes many more serious health effects than marijuana does.



On December 6, 2012, the U.S. state of Washington became the first state to officially legalize cannabis in a state law (but still illegal by federal law), with the state of Colorado following close behind. The California Supreme Court decided in May 2013 that local governments can ban medical marijuana dispensaries despite a state law in California that permits the use of cannabis for medical purposes. At least 180 cities across California and the Bay Area have enacted bans in recent years. Eighteen states have either decriminalized or allowed medical marijuana in some fashion. While the state laws have allowed dispensaries to open, they remain illegal under federal law. The gap between state and federal laws is widening when it comes to marijuana enforcement.

For instance, state law makes it legal to possess marijuana in Washington State, but selling drugs is still a federal crime. There is a similar situation in California, where medical marijuana is allowed, but again, growers don’t have the same legal protections that users have.


Spice is illegal to sell, possess, and use. On July 10, 2012, President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 into law. It banned synthetic compounds commonly found in synthetic marijuana, placing them under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Spice manufacturers get around the ban by continually changing up the chemicals used to make it. Also, Spice is labeled “not for human consumption,” which helps manufacturers avoid the federal Analog Act, under which any substance “substantially similar” to a banned drug is deemed illegal if it is intended for consumption.

The WINNER of ROUND 2 is SPICE because it is illegal to consume and has no known medical uses, unlike marijuana. However, it is important to note that the legality of marijuana is unclear: while some states have OK’d the use of marijuana, federal law still prohibits it. Therefore, you may think you are within your legal rights to possess and/or use marijuana only to find yourself being arrested because federal law supersedes state law.



Because it is all natural, many people believe that there are no health effects whatsoever related to using pot. This isn’t necessarily so. Just like any medicinal herb, the effects, if any, vary from person to person. Currently, marijuana is becoming legal in certain areas of the country yet, without federal backing, its potency is unregulated and therefore, you never know what you’re gonna get. Also, you may be getting a product that is not all-natural; there could be additives and again, without across-the-board regulation policy, this is a very real possibility.

Another insidious aspect to marijuana is that, although some people don’t know it, you can become addicted to marijuana after using it for a while. This is more likely to happen to people who use marijuana every day, or who started using it when they were teenagers.


Easy access and the misperception that Spice products are “natural” and therefore harmless have likely contributed to their popularity. Another selling point is that the chemicals used in Spice are not easily detected in standard drug tests. Labels on Spice products often claim that they contain “natural” psycho-active material taken from a variety of plants. Spice products do contain dried plant material, but chemical analyses show that their active ingredients are synthetic. Some of the compounds found in Spice, however, bind more strongly to those receptors, which could lead to a much more powerful and unpredictable effect. Because the chemical composition of many products sold as Spice is unknown, it is likely that some varieties also contain substances that could cause dramatically different effects than the user might expect.

ROUND 3 Ends in a DRAW because with Spice, you never know what to expect when you use it. The combination of chemicals is often unknown and attempts to regulate it have been difficult because manufacturers have stayed one step ahead of the law by constantly changing the chemicals. And on the other hand, you have marijuana which is sort of legal and not always regulated. It is also insidious in that people often do not realize the long term effects of marijuana and that it can, indeed, be addictive.


Because of its mental and physical side effects, illegality, and insidiousness, Spice is a much more dangerous drug.

If you or someone you know needs treatment for Marijuana or Spice Addiction, please call us at 800-951-6135.



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