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

Subst Use Misuse. 2024;59(8):1182-1189. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2024.2330900. Epub 2024 Mar 28.


Background and objectives: 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.

Methods: 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.

Results: 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 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."

Conclusions: 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.

Keywords: Synthetic cannabinoids; cannabis testing; military; spice; veterans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cannabinoids
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / psychology
  • Motivation*
  • United States
  • Veterans* / psychology
  • Young Adult


  • Cannabinoids