Quitting synthetic marijuana products such as Spice or K2 can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which can include strong cravings. These cravings can lead to relapse, which is why it’s important to have a plan to deal with them.
Spice/K2 Craving Signs and Symptoms
Synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice and K2 are man-made, unregulated chemicals meant to mimic other illegal drugs, specifically THC/marijuana. These drugs are often referred to as fake weed or synthetic marijuana. Their chemical composition varies widely from batch to batch and may have an entirely different effect on the user.
Since the brain becomes profoundly affected by the presence of these substances, you may have cravings and urges after discontinuing use. Some of these drugs bind even more tightly to and elicit stronger effects than THC at the same type of brain receptors within what is known as the endocannabinoid system. 2
This heightened activity within the brain could lead to even more pronounced withdrawal symptoms and cravings than marijuana alone.
Cravings may include:
- Obsessive thoughts and dreams about using.
- Fantasizing or romanticizing use of Spice or K2.
- Physical discomfort.
- Psychological distress.
Causes of Cravings
Cravings may be triggered when you see images of Spice/K2 or marijuana, hear music that you associate with use or spend time with using friends. You are also more likely to have cravings if you are not taking care of yourself by getting proper rest, eating well, exercising and attending meetings or therapy.
Treatment and Therapy to Stop Cravings
Behavioral therapies and medications have not been tested for treatment of addiction to these products. However, many therapies that have been shown effective in treating cannabis dependence could prove to be helpful when discontinuing Spice/K2 use and dealing with cravings.
Behavioral Therapy Treatments
Behavioral therapies can be offered in inpatient and outpatient treatment settings. They include the following:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you see how your thoughts, feelings and behaviors lead to your drug use. CBT also teaches you healthy coping skills for refraining from drug use.
- Motivational interviewing helps you discover and develop your motivation to stop using Spice and K2.
Behavioral therapies can also teach you how to manage cravings. Coping strategies include:
- Building a support system. When you have a craving, you can talk to your support system, which may include family, friends, a counselor or a sponsor from a 12-step program.
- Practicing mindfulness. You learn how to recognize that you are having a craving and let it pass.
- Using self-talk. Think about all the harm that Spice and K2 use caused you, and remember that the craving won’t last forever.
Types of Addiction Treatment
If you find it hard to control your cravings and need professional help overcoming an addiction or maintaining your sobriety, the following types of treatment programs are available:
- Inpatient or residential rehab treatment provides a live-in treatment setting that offers detoxification and rehabilitation services. Inpatient treatment usually offers individual and group therapy. Many incorporate a family component along with opportunities for stress-relief, exercise and participation at 12-step meetings.
- Partial hospitalization and day treatment programs are sometimes offered in hospitals or free-standing clinics. They offer treatment for several hours per day for the required program duration. This is a viable treatment option for those with a safe and supportive home environment who can distance themselves from situations and other people that might promote the drug use.
- Outpatient and intensive outpatient programs offer treatment at a program site. Outpatient recovery is often used as a “step-down” form of treatment after a stay at residential or inpatient. These type of programs are helpful for people who are willing to engage in regular treatment sessions and have support, transportation and a safe and stable place to live. 1
Natural Ways to Stop Urges
One of the best ways to deal with cravings is to find activities that you enjoy.
One of the best ways to deal with cravings is to find activities that you enjoy. Doing these activities can take your mind off the cravings and also fill your time without using drugs.
A good way to begin is to revisit any activities that once were important but may have fallen by the wayside as your addiction progressed. When drugs become the most important thing in your life, you will often find that you abandon activities that once gave you joy.
- Playing music.
Most addiction professionals will agree that exercise is an excellent way to manage cravings while also improving a recovering person’s health. It’s a win-win situation.One of the challenges can be determining which form of exercise is right for you. Talk to an addiction treatment professional or your doctor about which type of exercise might be a good fit for your lifestyle.
Developing a meditation practice takes time, but anybody can do it. Meditation can help with cravings by teaching you how to observe your thoughts without allowing your thoughts (cravings) to run your life.
- Urge surfing. Urge surfing involves acknowledging the urge to use and not fighting it. You use breathing and mindfulness techniques to allow the urge to pass. You can learn this technique through a therapist or in a treatment program. Many videos and websites also have information on urge surfing.
- Mindfulness techniques. Numerous cities across the country offer mindfulness training programs. Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme) offers retreats for teens, parents and professionals.
- Stress techniques. Additionally, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) uses meditation along with yoga and body awareness. MBSR trainings are offered both online and as an 8-week program.
Another practice being used in recovery programs is yoga. Some classes combine traditional yoga with a 12-step recovery meeting. This is called Y12SR, and classes are offered at yoga studios countrywide. If there are no Y12SR classes near you, any beginner yoga class led by an experienced teacher can provide an outlet that offers both a physical and a spiritual component.
Using Herbs and Supplements
You may see ads for herbal formulas and herbs that claim to help with discomfort associated with cessation of drug use. As with prescription medication, some of these items can also foster dependence and may have their own set of complications and side effects.
Again, work with an educated professional to determine the best course of action for your particular situation.
Things to Keep in Mind About Cravings
- Cravings will always pass whether or not you give in to them. They will come and go like waves on the beach.
- Don’t isolate. Make sure that your support team knows about the likelihood of cravings. Many people don’t understand that once the drug is removed, a great deal of challenge is still ahead.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about them. Being honest about your discomfort when it arises may be difficult at first because of the natural inclination to hide anything related to drug use. Over time, this sharing will most likely normalize your feelings and help you work through any shame that you carry about your addiction. To paraphrase a Swedish proverb: a burden shared is half a burden.
Detox and Withdrawal Risks
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The intensity of withdrawal symptoms depends on how long you have been using the drug. Many people use more Spice/K2 to relieve withdrawal symptoms, which is how the vicious cycle of addiction manifests itself.
Spice/K2 Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms may include the following:
- Anxiety and restlessness.
- Paranoid feelings.
- Nausea and diarrhea.
- Prolonged insomnia.
- Cold sweats/chills.
Managing Withdrawal Symptoms
- Drink water. Staying hydrated is important, especially if you are experiencing nausea and/or diarrhea.
- Get plenty of rest. If your sleep is disrupted, try to get as much rest as possible.
- Sometimes light exercise, such as walking, may help with withdrawal symptoms.
- Stay connected. Be sure to let your support team (family, friends, counselors, doctor) know how you are feeling, and remember that you never need to suffer in silence.
- Seek out treatment. Many people are able to manage withdrawal symptoms on their own. Spice/K2 withdrawal symptoms can be very unpleasant for some people, though. In a treatment setting, you can receive medications and supportive care to ease symptoms.
How to Prevent Relapse After Rehab
Relapse occurs long before a person picks up a drug.
Relapse occurs long before a person picks up a drug. You might notice that you are isolating, feeling irritable, sleeping poorly, neglecting your recovery plan and having strong cravings.
If you notice some of these signs in yourself or a loved one, you can:
- Practice some of the techniques mentioned above, such as yoga or mindfulness.
- Reach out to your network of sober friends and family.
- Join a recovery community to get support in maintaining sobriety.
Here are some other things you can do to prevent relapse before it occurs.
The best way to prevent relapse after rehab is to develop a plan while you are in rehab. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognizes that addiction recovery is a lifelong process. 3 This doesn’t mean that you will be unable to have fun or develop a full life – just the opposite. Once you’ve decided that you want recovery, working on a recovery lifestyle can become your new normal. Work with your treatment providers on an aftercare plan. Aftercare is follow-up care you receive after you complete a treatment program. It helps you continue to receive support and can keep your recovery strong.
Aftercare can include:
- 12-step programs (more on these below).
- Sober living communities.
- Outpatient treatment.
- Therapy and counseling.
Recovery Support Groups and 12-Step Programs
Many people find that attending a 12-step group helps keep them connected to a sober community and receive the ongoing support they need to stay clean.
- Narcotics Anonymous. Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a 12-step program for people struggling with drug addictions such as Spice/K2. NA has been around since the 1950s and evolved from the Alcoholics Anonymous There are women’s and men’s meetings, open and closed groups, step groups, discussion meetings and more. Look on the NA website for lists of meetings.
- In the Rooms is an online social network that provides community for anyone in recovery and their families and friends. It offers live online meetings, email daily meditations and affirmations, apps for your phone and a library of speaker tapes.
- SMART Recovery. SMART Recovery is another mutual support network that also offers face-to-face and online support meetings. It uses a four-point program that addresses the following: building and maintaining motivation; coping with urges; managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors; and living a balanced life.
How Long Do Spice/K2 Cravings Last?
According to the DEA, K2 or Spice appear to be stored in the body for long periods of time, so the long-term effects are unknown. 4
Much has been written about the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) from drugs and alcohol. It is believed to last anywhere from 6 to 18 months after your last use. This condition usually takes a course that often feels uncomfortable because it fluctuates.
You might have stretches where you feel great, and times when you feel awful. Keep in mind that it is important to work on your recovery even during those times when you feel great. Your symptoms will improve over time.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms
- Cognitive – You may find that your thoughts are scattered, which causes confusion. Or you may find yourself trying to control things, being rigid about what you will or will not consider in terms of your recovery. These patterns may be apparent for the first year, gradually improving over time.
- Emotional – One of the sayings in 12-step meetings is, “The good news is, you get your feelings back; the bad news is, you get your feelings back.” What this means is that your feelings may feel stronger than they have for a very long time. This applies to good feelings as well as bad. Stay close to your support group and use the help of a therapist if needed.
- Memory – Your memory is frequently affected. You may find it difficult to retain new information or remember things from your past.
Recognizing that PAWS exists is as important to friends and family as it is to you. As time moves forward, these symptoms will lessen, but they may be exacerbated during periods of high stress. Keeping stress low is helpful.
Keep things in perspective, and realize that things don’t change overnight. It probably took you a while to get to this place, and you are under stress as you adjust to this new, healthier way of being.
Where to Get Help
Despite the debate around how addictive synthetic marijuana products are, people can and do develop a dependence on them. If you are someone you know is having problems quitting Spice or K2, call one of our treatment advisors now at 1-888-319-2606 Who Answers? .
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2008). What is Substance Abuse Treatment? A Booklet for Families. SAMHSA, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4126, 2014
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). What are synthetic cannabinoids? Available at: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cannabinoids
. Laudet, A., Savage, R., and Mahmood, D. (2002). Pathways to Long-Term Recovery: A Preliminary Investigation. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 34(3): 305-311. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1852519/pdf/nihms-18188.pdf
. Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: K2 or Spice. Available at: http://www.dea.gov/druginfo/drug_data_sheets/K2_Spice.pdf
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