Synthetic cannabinoids (Spice)

Synthetic cannabinoids are lab-made drugs.

Spice is a nickname for a substance containing one or more synthetic cannabinoids.

Synthetic cannabinoids were originally designed to mimic the effects of cannabis. However, they are more harmful and unpredictable than cannabis.

They may be powdered chemicals, dissolved and sprayed onto paper or dried plant material.

Synthetic cannabinoids can also be made into a concentrated liquid to be used in vapes.

Risks of taking synthetic cannabinoids

Many people experience unpleasant and unpredictable effects and health risks after taking synthetic cannabinoids. This includes:

  • inability to move
  • dizziness
  • breathing difficulties
  • chest pain
  • heart palpitations
  • seizures
  • extreme anxiety
  • paranoia
  • suicidal thoughts
  • psychosis
  • gastrointestinal issues – like vomiting or diarrhoea
  • acute kidney injury

Using synthetic cannabinoids with alcohol and other drugs, including prescribed medicines, increases the risks of unwanted and harmful effects.

Withdrawal effects

People who use synthetic cannabinoids regularly over a long time commonly have withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms reported include:

  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • low mood
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • cravings

Reducing the risks

Due to their potency, there’s no safe way to take synthetic cannabinoids. If someone does take them they should start low and go slow. Strength can be hugely variable so start with a very small dose – a match-head size or less.

If using more, increase doses very cautiously and give time (at least an hour) for previous doses to wear off.

Mental wellbeing

Synthetic cannabinoids may increase feelings of anxiety or paranoia. So, only use them in an environment in which you feel safe and with people you trust.

Avoid using synthetic cannabinoids if you’re prone to anxiety or have existing mental health conditions.

Smoking synthetic cannabinoids

Inhaling any substance into your lungs is going to cause some level of irritation to the delicate tissue. This includes synthetic cannabinoid products.

If you’re smoking synthetic cannabinoids, avoid smoking them neat. Dried herbs can be used as an alternative to tobacco.

Avoid holding smoke in your lungs or breathing in too deeply – take short puffs and be very cautious about smoking in pipes, vapourisers or bongs. They make it harder to regulate intake and it’s easy to take too much.

Water pipes cause you to inhale more deeply which increases lung damage. Avoid sharing joints, vapes, pipes and bongs with others.


If you would like help or support related to drug use please visit support for people affected by drugs.

Last updated:
10 May 2024