Spice

Spice is popular amongst homeless people. Photo: Sefi Greiver

Spice is a synthetic cannabinoid. Its use is popular in prisons and among homeless people, and it is believed to have resulted in 50 deaths in 2016. Spice is bad. It puts users into a psychotic state where they can be violent. Or it might result in unconsciousness. If police or prison officers or health professionals are called upon, public money is expended.

Spice made the headlines when users were reported in Manchester, and their zombie-like state was compared to what is seen on The Walking Dead. Spice is what Demi Moore had taken when, in 2011, a friend called 911, reporting that she was having “convulsions of some sort.”

Spice is bad. The amount of cannabinoid present is unknown. There is little safety data and possibly none at all: spice is considerably more potent than regular cannabis – as much as one hundred times so in a test tube – and it has never been tested on animals, never mind humans.

Why people like it

There are hundreds of different versions of spice, most of which are undetectable by testing and don’t smell like your usual cannabis, hence prisoners prefer it. While spice is bad, its potency makes it highly profitable: a solution costing several pounds can be soaked into one A4 sheet of paper which, upon drying, can be cut into around 100 pieces and sold for a fiver a pop.

Hey, let’s make it illegal; that always works

Until recently, spice was a legal alternative to cannabis, but it is now outlawed following amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act. Of course, heroin has been illegal for 50 years but the number of deaths it caused in England and Wales in 2016 broke records.

Even drug dealers shy away from it

One purveyor on an internet marketplace warned people not to buy spice unless they were experienced, otherwise it would be excessively strong. When contacted directly, this individual added that spice is bad both mentally and physically and, by and large, the only folk who took it were those who were so miserable they wished “to be completely out of reality” but couldn’t afford or have access to heroin. The upshot they provided was that the high was not that great and people ought to “stay away.”

Unlike proper cannabis, spice can’t be described as “natural” – it’s manufactured in laboratories and factories in Eastern Europe and India but mostly China. These places will be intended for making intermediary chemicals used in common household products, with spice a very profitable sideline. One kilo can be made for £50 and sold for £2,000, and only a basic knowledge of chemistry and a selection of chemicals is required.

Spice is a liquid which is sprayed onto a plant – preferably something soft and fluffy like sage or damiana leaves. Spraying is bound to be sloppy, leading to hotspots in batches which are more concentrated. Mike Power, author of Drugs 2.0: The Web Revolution That’s Changing How the World Gets High, cautioned that spice is bad and “The severity of effects can go from 0-10 very quickly.”

Health risks

Over 20,000 people in 123 countries were questioned for the 2013 Global Drug Survey. It found that people who used spice were 30 times as likely to require an ambulance as users of conventional cannabis. One study by the University of South Florida linked spice to strokes in “otherwise healthy adults.” And health practitioners agree that, unlike normal cannabis, spice is addictive.

The chief inspector of prisons related that spice has caused many inmates to be treated in hospital. At one prison, Merseyside’s HMP Altcourse, prisoners refer to ambulances as “mambulances” because they are so often summoned for inmates who have consumed too much of a form of spice known as mamba.

Cannabis doesn’t cause psychosis – much

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