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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