The Hard Lives of Britain’s Synthetic Marijuana Addicts

Spice just hits you like a truck, it just knocks you out Whereas bud you just sit and chill

You know what? I wish I could go back to my bud Because you know what, Spice, it's horrible I woke up after the Spice, with vomit all over my bed, and myself I know a kid who died of it Couldn't get his heart beating more

It was beating too fast, it just went and shook out As the new government began making moves to ban all legal highs, we headed to Manchester, where synthetic drugs like Spice, and other brands like Vertex, Pandora, and Insane Joker, are freely available to buy from news agents and places known as head shops Although manufacturers state on the packets that they're not fit for human consumption, legal highs are used recreationally And they make the press when students overdose on them Most people thought it was a recreational drug, a party drug, something that you could, perhaps, dip in and out of

But actually, nobody really knows what they're made of part and what structure they have and how they impact on the body Although students with a support network tend to dip in and out of synthetic drugs We wanted to meet a much more vulnerable group of people who can suffer from the affects of a real dependency on legal highs All the clients that are presenting here are using spice It's affecting the mental health, it's affecting the physical health, and it's a massive, massive problem

Manchester has more rough sleepers then anywhere else outside of London Cuts to council services have left the city with 20% fewer emergency beds than there were five years ago And during that time, legal highs have become a crutch to many of the people who now live on the streets I use it myself, and I use it because it takes the pain away It's legal

What can I do? I can sit here now, there could be 20 officers around me with guns and everything As long as pull a bag of spice out and start rolling it, I can roll it Nothing that anybody can do I pull a bag of weed out and they'll all be on me like a car bonnet How might people go about trying to get hold of it once you can't go to a shop and buy it? There's always gonna be some match level drug

There's already street dealers out there Are you worried though that it might start criminalizing people? Yes, yes I've seen some bad you have got to look at this drug, it's bringing heroine addicts, I know a heroine addict that's a Spice addict now He takes Spice like he used to take heroine every single day of the week He doesn't took to heroine now, so that heroine a class A drug and the Spice is bringing him off that What is in this stuff? It's amazing

The Misuse of Drugs Act controls substances on the basis of their structure The banned cannabinoid in weed is THC Synthetic cannabis like spice mimics the effects of weed by replicating and slightly altering the chemical that gets people high Legal high manufacturers design cannabinoids and constantly update the composition of their products, so that they remain within the law But, these experiments can leave the users smoking a legal version of weed that can be a hundred times stronger

One of the few volunteer organizations that caters to Manchester's homeless community is Lifeshare, a charity that looks after young people seeking advice and accommodation Where I've just come from is everywhere It's everywhere

Yeah, it's everywhere People are making thousands of pounds off that In jail, yeah

And trust me I've seen some kids in wheelchairs It's funny, yeah, but afterwards it's not So more people just die Pretty much most of our clients use the Spice I think the main reason that it's being used quite a lot, is it's cheap

People that used to smoke cannabis, they're spending ten pound on cannabis And they're getting two smokes out of it They're spending five pound on a gram of spice And it's going a lot further and it's a lot stronger as well, I believe What I've noticed when it comes to Manchester is the number of rough sleepers there are

Most of our clients now are homeless and will sleep here Why is that? Well, realistically there's budget cuts to various services or whatever, and homelessness has been a major one We need more shelters and we need more hostels Lifeshare is the first point of contact for people living on the streets, and currently sees over 100 clients A regular member of their drop-in clinic is Titch

I've got a spliff there Where do you sleep at night, Titch? Car park up Portland Street Are you waiting for a hostel? When was the last time you had a Spice hit? About half 10, 11 o'clock this morning How are you feeling right now? Like I want to kill someone I want to go back into Strangeways (Prison) and do a 28 day detox

But that would be pointless Why would it be pointless going into Strangeways? Because there's more Spice in there than what's out on the streets [INAUDIBLE] You look like you're about to roll a spliff Yeah, [INAUDIBLE] I forgotten a spliff this morning That's about 40 spliffs right there in that one

I don't want it, but I'm in pain I'm in that much pain Where does it hurt? My stomach, shooting pains down my leg, shooting pains up my spine Pains in my neck and in my arm Harmful if swallowed

May cause respiratory irritation Do you want a glass of water to drink? Have you ever seen any other drug like this? This is supposed to be legal, but it has a sense of deterioration that you don't expect from crack Crack cocaine, and then quickly, rapidly deteriorated, over a few weeks of using it I've gone from that to this Can you remember the first time you started Spice? In the summer seeing young people begging that would have never normally begged before and they're going begging for Spice

Risking their accommodation and everything, cuz they're not going home to accommodation cuz they're off their faces on Spice in the car parks How much Spice do you smoke? Six grams a day Six grams a day? – Yeah And how much does that cost? It's three for 20 pounds so you are looking at about 30 pounds or 40 pounds a day I'd rather it be illegal because, do you know what yeah I'd rather blaze my bud

Look at me now yeah, right, I'm rattling, right, my head's all over, right, and I can't think straight Now, if this was bud, don't get me wrong, I'd be sat here stressed, Judy's seen me stressed when I've not had bud, but I'm not like this, I'm not rattling You know what, it's horrible And it's the same irritability that you would associate with crack, but you're actually sometimes now showing physical withdrawal signs as well, which you usually associate with heroin I mean some of the young people here describe the heart palpitating and really, really going really fast

They just will not take on board that how detrimental it's gonna be to their mental health, their long-term well-being How did it make you feel? The first time I had it? – Yeah It was actually Pandora's box as well Were you there? We can do that I think

I don't know! What are you doing with your legs? And I was just waving my legs, laughing my ass off at every single thing I don't know You had a spliff about half an hour ago now How are you feeling now? I'm not as bad, a bit anxious but not too bad I'm putting my full time into getting off Spice, I know I can but I have to be away from being surrounded by it

At the moment the town has become a breeding ground for it Everybody comes into town, they won't go home because they need to get Spice It's being in this situation on the streets, while everybody else is doing it, that I kind of find it hard to get away from it Titch, do you see that your way out of Spice, and being surrounded by Spice culture is by getting a secure accommodation in a hostel? Yes, d'you know what? I've said this from day one I will stop smoking Spice when I get in a hostel, right? And the only reason, the reason is yeah, is because of the bud

I'd love to smoke my bud after this because I know yeah, my bud ain't making me unfit, it ain't making me drop, it ain't fucking my head up and that Before meeting Tim, Johan realized that legal highs like Spice were addictive He's only gone a few hours without smoking it before showing signs of withdrawal There's the rattling going now I wanted to find out from someone whose job it is to get people off drugs, if the legal status of a particular substance had any impact on whether people take it or not

There is a level of naivete around thinking that by making legal highs illegal, people will be less inclined to use them If somebody is already in a situation of relative chaos in their life in general, it would be unlikely that we would see a significant impact in people using them It's not necessarily gonna positively impact on the people who are using it, but it impacts on who's in charge of the supply and where the supply comes from It's a public health issue And what we wouldn't want to see is for the criminal aspect of that problem to be prioritized over the public health aspect

I think all services providing information, support, access for members of the public, we've had significant financial cuts, I think, over the last five years And that's probably going to continue, so there'll be a 25% reduction in the overall spend on drugs and alcohol He's one of the biggest Spice heads in town I know two people who have died of it At a city center soup kitchen, local health workers are dealing with Spice casualties on a daily basis

The guy that we first came across on the wall, he was completely out of it, unconscious We've been talking to lots of people about it They say they've never seen a drug have as massive effects as legal highs do on people No We've gone from having no problems with it to now we're getting three or four people every night

We've had no training on it, obviously, when we did the training it wasn't there, now we are starting to get training on it because there's so much out there, it's so bad Outlawing something doesn't sort of change people's intention to do something It doesn't no, but it becomes illegal more can be done about it Same again, now I can smell it now – Yeah, me too

And it doesn't smell like weed, does it? No It is so much chemically related, that nobody really knows what's in it It will knock you out and it will numb your senses to the elements and stuff This is why it's becoming a homeless phenomenon, it's because it numbs your senses and it makes you dull and it makes the elements not bother you Later that night we went to find it

As we wandered the streets, it was hard to ignore the irony and the fact that Spice was, to some degree, a problem of the government's own making And there seemed to be a similarity between Titch's cycle of satisfying his own addiction and the government's way of handling drugs A sort of Whac-a-Mole tactic that only serves as a temporary solution As ministers debate the details of the new psychoactive substances bill, while cutting addiction services and housing support, only time will tell where the problem might pop up again in the future

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