I Was Addicted to Spice, and It Might Be Responsible for My Bizarre, Unexplained Sickness

I started smoking synthetic cannabis after the real stuff stopped doing it for me. Four years later, I'm suffering from a weird, white blood cell-related illness supposedly triggered by certain cannabinoids.

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Aug 18 2015, 12:00pm

I came across spice in New Zealand, in 2007. The first blend of the stuff, a synthesized cannabis substitute sprayed onto inert leafy materials, was similar to a a kind of weak bush weed, I'd been told. I was trying to avoid cannabis at the time—having smoked it for over ten years, reaching the point where a smoke-up would leave me more dead-eyed and vacant than giggly and high—but the prospect of getting stoned in the wet heat of the Antipodean evening sun was too much to resist. Plus, this wasn't technically weed.

I became instantly hooked on spice, starting to spend far more money on it than anyone ever should. I ended up returning to London earlier than I'd anticipated and, alarmingly quickly, found a local spice supplier. I could buy it over the counter at a head shop—the exact stuff I'd been getting in New Zealand. Then it got stronger: The Gold, Silver, and Arctic blends escalating the high each time.

Related: How Synthetic Weed Is Ravaging Brooklyn's Homeless Population

One problem any dedicated stoner has is finding a dealer who can provide consistently high-quality cannabis. Spice is always consistent. It's a guaranteed hit at a guaranteed level. A weed enthusiast will use several strands of cannabis, some stronger than others, some with varying effects. For me, spice has only one guaranteed effect: stoned, passive, dead weight, heavy-hearted dullness. A pale-faced painkiller, shutting the world off to you and you off to the world. Other accounts suggest it's capable of sending users into a frenzy, with some harming either themselves or others. Either way, it's not exactly the most desirable high.

Not long ago, the UK's legal high market flourished. A seemingly infinite range of new synthetic cannabinoids emerged, all with different names, but sold in the same near-identical vacuum-packed bags. Eventually they released the stuff branded as Black Mamba, which quickly became my smoke of choice. One evening around that time I was passed a joint made purely from extremely strong, high-grade, instant-amnesia cannabis. I inhaled and didn't feel a thing. I must have smoked about a half ounce that evening, trying in vain to get stoned.

After that, I stopped smoking cannabis altogether. I knew how Black Mamba could make me feel; I preferred it. I chose to continue the habit, to the point where I could easily smoke three grams of Black Mamba in one day. In fact, I did exactly that for over three years.

That I never knew exactly what was in the lab-concocted chemicals I was smoking never really bothered me. I was annihilating my body every night, only to queue outside the head shop the next morning to buy the next three-gram bag. Hopelessly addicted without even knowing it.

READ ON MOTHERBOARD: It's Really Easy to Create Your Very Own Legal High

I've stopped now, though; cut the tie Black Mamba had on me. In the weeks that followed my decision to quit, I felt fairly healthy. I ate well and considered myself to have a normal life.

Recently, the situation has changed. A sickness. Doctors are involved. Blood tests. Stool tests. All they can find is an excessive white blood cell count, supposedly triggered by certain cannabinoids and high levels of stress. There's no concrete evidence as yet, but it would make sense that years of ingesting an unknown mix of chemicals might have some sort of adverse effect on my body.

What alarms me most are the uncharted long-term effects of what I've been choosing to inhale. I'd done a bit of research, found nothing of any real concern, rolled another joint and carried on not really caring about anything: in retrospect, such a strange, dangerous approach to take.

Recently, I bought my first bag of Black Mamba for months. I wanted to remember what it feels like. Why it had such a hold over me. I wrote the following straight after my first hit:

Just over three years. A long time. Looking back it had an effect on everything. Money. Relationships. Operations. Friends. Family. It took first place. It always took everything.

The feeling has passed now. It lasts for about ten minutes. A short smash into whatever pit you were previously digging into. At first it is not the comfortable cradle one might associate with heroin, or cannabis. I pushed it. I missed it. To me, weed is the only sin I allow myself to commit. Or think I'm committing. Sometimes it is more about how guilty you intend to make yourself feel. There is no real evidence. Blood. Inability to get stoned, Frightening moods. And my creativity is weak. Dead. Dull. The light is something else. Some chemical, brutalized version. And boy does it mess your lungs up. Sick. Unavoidable. It's a melancholy trip. It does have positive traits. It is very addictive.

But I see it now for what it really is. The black snake all along. There is guilt; soul-kicking sadness. And the dead part of your chest wakes. Tell myself it's going to be alright. I have annihilated, eradicated my memories. I have emotive, strongly-felt memories. But details are my devil. I see it all now. How deeply layered the hold is. A drug that smashes, bends, and drowns all the elements of myself I'm too terrified to admit.

All I can do now is wait for the test results, find some new way to fill those dead hours and try to get past the one question that's been playing on my mind ever since I comprehended the unknown of the drug's long-term effects: What the fuck have I done? It is a poison, spice, or Black Mamba, or whatever else synthetic cannabis is branded as. My mind and body have had time to breath and heal, but the rusty, smeared-window view of the world that Black Mamba gives you is a hard one to escape. The hours I slept back then were the only hours that I wasn't smoking; a pathetic way to live any life.

Black Mamba will snatch you by the throat and kiss you deeply. It makes you forget why you are. Which, to me, defeats the whole purpose of hallucinogenics. I spent years building some false, black dream. All I'd been was a vessel, driven by an insatiable need for an unknown combination of chemicals.

More on VICE:

A Look Inside the British Government's Legal Highs Lab

I Sell Legal Highs in the UK and Now I'm Fucked

A Guide to Spice: The Drug That's Putting British Students in Hospital

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