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'Spice' Use Motivations, Experiences, and Repercussions among Veterans of the United States Armed Forces

NCJ Number
Substance Use and Misuse Volume: 59 Issue: 8 Dated: July 2024 Pages: 1182-1189
Date Published
July 2024

This article reports on a research project to determine synthetic cannabinoid use among veterans as an alternative to marijuana, to avoid drug test detection; it lays out the research methodology and findings, which indicated that veterans generally do not turn to synthetic alternatives to marijuana.


The potential for synthetic cannabinoids (SCs) to function as an alternative to marijuana without the same risk of a positive urinalyses led to claims of pervasive military SC use. Case studies confirm use among veterans, but no study has adequately explored SC use in the military using detailed interview data. Interviews (1-2 h) were conducted with 318 justice-involved veterans. Recruitment was attempted with all participants in eight veterans treatment courts in three U.S. states (54.9% of 579 eligible veterans). Interviews were transcribed and thematic analyses completed. SC use was reported by 65 participants (21.3%). Major emergent themes indicated SCs were perceived as unpleasant, overly powerful, and a poor substitute for marijuana. Further, habitual use was rare as many chose not to reuse it after initial negative experiences. Few indicated that the perception that SCs would not appear on routine military urinalyses enabled their use. Veterans were aware of the changing drug composition and feared “bad batches.” SCs were explicitly disliked both independently and relative to marijuana. Nine discussed avoiding positive military drug screens as a consideration, but negative initial experiences generally prevented progression to habitual use. Veterans did not view SCs as a suitable marijuana replacement. Fears that SCs are being used as a marijuana alternative among veterans subject to frequent drug testing appear unfounded. These interviews suggest that routine military drug testing did not motivate individuals to use SCs habitually as a marijuana replacement; however, veterans’ negative interpretation of SC effects contributed to this outcome. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: July 1, 2024