Why I'm Still Smoking Synthetics, 20 Deaths Later

A New Zealand addict on smoking on the streets, seizures, and what the high really feels like.
February 21, 2018, 11:30pm

This article originally appeared on VICE NZ

Basically I’ve had an addictive personality for most of my life—you know, smoking cannabis and drinking but not too hard out on the drinking. You soon just get in a rut of thinking, "well, this is who I am and I’m not going to progress to much more". And then basically, synthetic cannabis got made legal in—I’m not too sure of the dates. I and a lot of other people, we all started smoking it when it was legal but the government realised, no, this is not healthy, so they pulled it out from under us. We were left high and dry, as the saying goes. Our bodies needed the synthetics, and where is it?


What then happened is people just started making it to fill the vacuum. The end result now is it’s being made illegally and unfortunately, yes, people have died and have had seizures and people have ended up in hospital and I put that down to lack of quality control, because they’re not doing it in a controlled environment.

I was scared a bit [when people started dying] until I realised that a lot of people that were dying were either quite young, as in like 18, or they were in their 40s and 50s and had been living on the streets for quite a long time. People that are homeless for quite a long time don’t have the best health—they’re not eating properly, they don’t have the best immune system. For the homeless people who have died on synthetics, I still actually question whether it was the synthetics that killed them. We still have to read the coroner’s report because the synthetics could’ve just been a catalyst for what happened. It was in winter, so people can die in the street.

I don’t look forward to going to bed without having some synnies otherwise I just can’t sleep properly.

I’m using because, to be honest, I’m an addict. That’s just the truth of the matter. I don’t look forward to going to bed without having some synnies otherwise I just can’t sleep properly. Generally I buy a bag of synthetic cannabis a day, and that costs $20, so I have to sit down and get the money for that. Basically, the bag I get each day, I’ll have a bit but I’ll save it for night because the thing about people who use synthetics is we have trouble sleeping. It sedates you but when you’re sedated you’re not properly asleep, and when you come out of the sedation you tend to wake up. If I go to bed at 11PM, I’ll wake up at 2AM; if I go to bed at 10, I’ll wake up at 1AM. I’m forever waking up through the night—it’s one of the downsides to smoking synthetics. The worst downside is that if we don’t smoke it, we probably won’t be able to get to sleep.


It gives you a bit of a warm hum, like alcohol. You know how alcohol is meant to warm you up but it’s deceptive—alcohol doesn’t actually warm you up. It’s the same thing with synthetics: it doesn’t actually warm you up like a blanket.

It can be dangerous because when people nod out they are no longer in control of their faculties, they are no longer aware of what’s going on around them and they can be vulnerable. Lots of streeties who have munged out have had their things stolen from them. There’s also the danger of collapsing. I’ve collapsed a few times. I used to smoke it in the toilet. I’d be standing up and then I’d just collapse and I’ve only got like a second’s warning to put out my hands before I hit the ground. That’s happened a few times. Sometimes I’ve got no warning at all and I’ve just collapsed and my head’s just banged against the wall or banged against the toilet then I’m just checking it for blood to see if I’ve cut myself. That’s one of the hazards; there is a hazard of smoking this stuff. But generally, if you’re with a few other people who you trust, it’s not actually as bad as what the media can make it out to be.

"Generally, as long as you’re not being stupid and right out there having seizures, the police, if they do find you, just take the bag off you, they don’t arrest you.

I just want to set this straight for the record, not every person begging is a synthetics user. You have people begging that only drink—they won’t touch synthetics. You have other people who have lost friends to it. I have a core group of about three or four guys that I know that all live on the street and they all use it so at times we’ll all just go somewhere private to smoke it. But even that can be dangerous because sometimes people narc on us. Yesterday, a couple of my mates went to a car park where they thought they were safe and the cops came along and took all their bags off them and all their bongs off them. But generally, as long as you’re not being stupid and right out there having seizures, the police, if they do find you, just take the bag off you, they don’t arrest you. They just move you on.

If I don’t get a smoke for a couple of days, my lungs feel like they’re seizing up. You just have a horrible feeling throughout your body, like you’re hot, you’re cold. You just have a really irritable feeling. And psychologically you are just really wanting to get some synthetics, just to relax you and calm you down.

Because I’ve been smoking this since about May 2014, and not once have I had a seizure, I personally feel quite relaxed. Some people think it’s really bad, it’s going to kill all your brain cells, but I can still read the paper.

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