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Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

The Journal of Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues

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Volume 31, Issue 2 (Apr 2014)


The flip side of “Spice”: The adverse effects of synthetic cannabinoids as discussed on a Swedish Internet forum

Christophe Soussan
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of social and psychological studies Karlstad University, Sweden
  • Email:
/ Anette Kjellgren
  • Department of social and psychological studies Karlstad University, Sweden
  • Email:
Published Online: 2014-04-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/nsad-2014-0016


BACKGROUND - Synthetic cannabinoids in smoking mixtures (such as Spice) or as raw powder are sold for recreational use as an alternative to herbal cannabis (hashish and marijuana). Although clinical case studies have documented an array of side effects, there is also information available at Internet based drug discussion forums. AIM - Our study investigates experiences of side effects from use of synthetic cannabinoids, as described and anonymously shared on Swedish online discussion forums. METHODS - A systematic search yielded 254 unique and publicly available self-reports from the Swedish forum flashback.org. These texts were analysed thematically, which resulted in 32 sub-themes, which were combined into three overarching themes. RESULTS & CONCLUSION - The experiences of negative side effects were described as (1) Adverse reactions during acute intoxication; (2) Hangover the day after intoxication; (3) Dependency and withdrawal after long-term use. The first theme was characterized by an array of fierce and unpredictable side effects as tachycardia, anxiety, fear and nausea. The acute intoxication reactions were congruent with the side effects published in clinical case studies. The day after intoxication included residual effects of dullness, apathy, nausea and headache. Long-term use resulted in dependency and experiences of being emotionally numb and disconnected. Furthermore, withdrawal was described as sweating, shaking, loss of appetite and insomnia. Both the hangover and the long-term effects have previously been given little scientific attention and need to be investigated further. Drug related Internet discussion forums constitute an overlooked source of information which can aid in the identification of previously unknown risks and effects

KEYWORDS: - synthetic cannabinoids; Spice; internet drugs; research chemicals


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About the article

Received: 2013-11-10

Accepted: 2013-12-27

Published Online: 2014-04-25

Published in Print: 2014-04-01

Citation Information: Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, ISSN (Online) 1458-6126, ISSN (Print) 1455-0725, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/nsad-2014-0016. Export Citation

© by Christophe Soussan. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

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