Studies have shown that those with physical disabilities are more at risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol than those who do not have a disability, especially when it comes to herbal incense. To help put this into context, more than 39 million people have some form of disability, and nearly 5 million of those who have a disability also struggle with substance abuse.

Similar findings have been shown to be associated with intellectual disabilities as well with 7% to 26% struggling with addiction-related problems. It is worth noting that addiction involving those with intellectual disabilities is often predicated by their desire to cope with their disability and the frustration that it causes them. In this article, we will take a look at one particular form of addiction and the impact that it can have on those with physical disabilities, herbal incense addiction.


Commonly referred to as “K2” or “spice,” herbal incense is a synthetic cannabinoid that offers a similar high compared that of regular marijuana. Although herbal incense generally thought to be a safer alternative to traditional marijuana use, it can pose severe health risks and can be very addictive. Also, some people use it because it cannot be detected during most drug screens. Nonetheless, synthetic cannabinoids bond to the same CB1 and CB 2 receptors in the brain, which, in turn, results in short-term memory problems and an inability to regulate one’s appetite. These are the same side effects commonly associated with chronic marijuana use. That said, some of the compounds that make up herbal incense can be stronger than the THC found in marijuana, namely JWH-018.


As far as the impetus for substance abuse amongst the physically disabled, the reasons can vary from person to person. However, the probability of those using synthetic cannabinoids to turn to harder drugs like opioids, for example, is very high. The high derived from synthetic cannabinoids is much lower compared to that of prescription opioids or street level drugs like heroin, which makes them more attractive to someone who may be struggling with severe pain, anxiety, or depression that stems from a disability. According to an article published by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), the heightened risk can also be attributed to decreased mobility and financial strain that a disability can have one’s life.


While the high derived from synthetic cannabinoids may be on par with marijuana use for some people, the side effects are markedly different and, in some cases, can be very severe. Some of the more notable side effects include

  • Fatigue
  • Heavy limbs
  • Feelings of paranoia
  • Redness of the eye
  • Extreme euphoria
  • Loss of appetite

Although these symptoms may seem mild, chronic synthetic cannabinoid use can severely impact one’s life. Some of the more serious side effects include

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Panic attacks
  • Increase heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Extreme irritability


Unlike traditional marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids contain properties that make them not only physically addictive but also psychologically addictive as well. In fact, the withdrawal symptoms associated with synthetic cannabinoids are comparable to that of marijuana, which means that individuals will likely have to go through detox to purge the drugs and accompanying contaminants from their body. Also, they may have to undergo counseling to ensure they don’t relapse. All in all, the psychological and physical dependence associated with synthetic cannabinoids and other substances is no different for those with a physical disability; however, the physical disability can play a significant role in one’s decision to start using.

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