Images of people turned into zombies or ‘living statues’ by the Drug Spice have horrified Britain in recent months – but what actually is Spice?
The drug – actually one or more of several hundred synthetic compounds – is meant to mimic the effects of smoking weed, but is much, much stronger. The chemicals are made in illegal or semi-legal labs, often in the Far East – and are known as ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ because they affect the same areas of the brain as cannabis. Spice is usually sold ready-sprayed onto herbs, and is smoked much like weed, but can cause terrifying symptoms such as hallucinating that there are worms in your blood. It’s extremely cheap, and many of the compounds used don’t show up in blood tests for drugs – which mean that it’s become popular in prisons. Because it’s so much stronger than weed, and mixed randomly – makers sometimes dissolve the Chemical in nail polish remover, then use a cement mixer to apply it to herbs – people often take a far higher dose than they intend to. Is Spice legal? Spice is often referred to as a ‘legal high’, but selling it is actually illegal under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2015 – although the drug can still be ordered on dodgy sites. Drugs workers in Ireland have also warned that a similar ban there – brought in in 2010 – has not worked, and that it is still easy to get the drugs there. Many street dealers in the UK now sell Spice as well as illegal drugs. What are the effects? Depending on the strength, and the chemical involved, smoking Spice can be fairly close to the effects of smoking weed – with users feeling giggly and relaxed. But it’s easy to take too much, as the chemicals are much stronger than marijuana, according to experts. Outreach worker Ewa Kapica at homelessness charity The Connection said, ‘I’ve witnessed people thrashing around on the floor, experiencing vivid hallucinations, screaming they want to ‘end it all’. ‘These fits are followed by crashes; the person becomes unresponsive and the emergency services step in. It’s terrifying.’ Why do people end up ‘like statues’? The chemicals used in Spice can make it extremely difficult for users to coordinate their movements or concentrate. Drug organisation FRANK says, ‘Mood and perception can change and concentration and co-ordination may become difficult. Synthetic cannabinoids, possibly because of their potency, are more likely to be associated with hallucinations than natural cannabis.’ Is Spice addictive? Many people say that Spice is extremely addictive – with withdrawal symptoms kicking in rapidly after people smoke it. Others are able to smoke small amounts without feeling withdrawals. Speaking to Spice Addiction Info, user Walter says, ‘I have done heroin, coke, crack, meth, you name it. I’ve done it, and nothing was harder to kick than spice. ‘I would sleep behind the dumpster of the only store around that sold it, just so I could wake up and not have to worry about finding a ride to get it. ‘I stole from my family so I could supply my habit. I’d lay in the basement of my parents house and just smoke it, all day. Not showering, cleaning, changing. Nothing.’ Any other side effects? Users of the drug have experienced blackouts, vomiting and psychotic episodes. This year, a man high on ‘Spice’ attacked a woman with green hair with a bottle of vodka – thinking she was a Jedi Knight. Marc Anthony Sefton was seen crouching near bushes outside a supermarket, shouting swear words before the attack.