The devastating consequences of taking Spice have been described by those hooked on the lethal drug which has destroyed their lives – and killed their pals.
Across the UK, Spice, also known as the ‘zombie drug’ is being sold on the streets for as little as £5 and is causing an " epidemic in prisons ".
Harrowing pictures show people lying motionless in the middle of a city centre, slumped over on a park bench or standing in the street bent double and swaying while gripped by the drug’s effects.
"It’s worse than heroin. Once you’re hooked on it, you’re f***ed basically," one user, who has been off the drug for six days, told Wales Online .
The man-made drug usually consists of a mixture of herbs or shredded plant material with mind-altering chemicals sprayed on them.
Users smoke it and and effects can vary between feelings of relaxation and euphoria.
However, it also causes a significant reduction in the respiratory system, which causes the body to shut down due to low oxygen levels – hence the zombie-like state.
One user said their heart was beating so hard it felt like it was going to come out of their chest.
In Cardiff, users have been seen ‘frozen in place’ and passed out.
Describing what happens when she smokes Spice, one woman said: "You don’t know what you’re taking, to be honest.
"And when you do take it, it just makes you trip out and sometimes you get this scary feeling.
"But then it’ll just wipe you out completely, like stronger than heroin for a good 20 minutes.
"And then you’ll come round without even realising you’ve been under for the last 20 minutes. Then you spark up another spliff and just go on and on and on."
And she warned: "Do not take it. It’s the worst drug ever."
Meanwhile, another Spice user – who says he stopped using the drug ten days ago and is determined not to go back – describes how easy it is to get hold of and says it is "like buying sweets".
"It’s very easy, so easy you wouldn’t believe it," he admitted.
"I usually buy £10 worth three times a day. Some people, it can make them fall over and comatose. Others, it just feels like weed.
"When I used to smoke it, it used to make me feel just comfortable and relaxed. But, other than that, it can wreck your life."
Asked if he knew anyone whose life Spice had ruined, he says: "It nearly wrecked mine, yes. It can poison you, it can stop your heart.
"I know people who have died on it recently, it’s really not good, terrible, something needs to be done about it.
"It’s very, very easy to get addicted to it but the addiction is more mental than physical. Spice makes you need it physically and mentally.
"Cocaine is more of a want, whereas heroin is a physical need and spice is inbetween. It’s a mental want but you’ll be sick so you physically need it as well."
Spice doesn’t just send users into a dazed state.
Harry Shapiro, director of DrugWise and a drug information and policy analyst, said one user was taken to A&E in that state, only to go berserk once they came out of it.
Speaking outside a medical centre in Butetown, Cardiff, a woman who has been off Spice for six days – and started smoking it a year and a half before it was made illegal – describes the effect on her behaviour.
"It’s affected me big-time with my paranoia," she said.
"I get angry a lot quicker. I’m not an angry person but it’s turned me, not violent, but I get really irate within seconds.
"It’s not good to come off, it has the same effects as heroin when withdrawing. It’s psychologically addictive. With crack, it’s not a physical withdrawal, it’s psychosis.
"You see things that aren’t there, you hear things, people talking to you when they’re not, you’re constantly wary and paranoid. I’ve accused my own friends of robbing me when they haven’t."
In Swansea, Lisa, a heroin user living on the streets, says spice is rife. She tried it once but “it scared the life out of me”.
“Spice is dangerous to me”, she said. “It is worse than heroin”.
Barrie, a 34-year-old from Port Talbot, who struggles with a heroin addiction, said he tried spice a couple of times while in prison – where he would be offered the drug on a daily basis – and that all it took was a couple of drags to “knock you out for six”.
“You can be out of your mind,” he said, adding that people in that so-called zombie state can see what is going on but they can’t move.
Another woman said: "We know people who sell it. You can get it in £5 bags, £10 bags.
"We get judged for everything but believe it or not, it’s people who are not homeless who have introduced us to this.
"Everything is blamed on homeless people. I don’t want to smoke it. I’ve been off it for six days. You can’t just come off it with nothing, though," she said, adding that valium and diazepam help.
Another man has also told his painful story of how he got addicted.
He was working a normal job and had his own home but after falling out with his family and becoming addicted to drugs he became homeless.
His phone was stolen last night from the tent he has been living in, as were his trainers last week. His brother is a manager in a major accounting firm and has offered to help him, but he says he doesn’t want to be a "burden".
Another homeless man living in a tent said: "I’ve been taking spice for ages now. I’m homeless and I need my fix to get me through the day – I’ve had a hard life."
He walks off with his duvet strapped to his back.
Back at the medical centre in Butetown, Dr Simon Braybrook is trying to help and believes the practice has given homeless people a chance.
"We have intentionally tried to treat all our residents, and that includes the homeless, so it’s not specifically a homeless clinic, but we have a lot of the homeless registered at our practice," he says.
"The drugs issue has always been huge in Butetown, dating back to the 19th century when there were opium dens, and it likely always will be.
"Drug use isn’t confined to the homeless and drug use varies. People living on the streets are likely to have access to drugs such as cocaine.
"There’s definitely an association with drug use and their socio-economic background – when there is a recession, there will be more problems with drug and crime."
Meanwhile, a Spice user had a message for people who might be thinking of taking it.
"Stay away from it because it will totally hit you the other way," he urged.
"You think it’s all fun and games. The first time I smoked it, two drags and I was in Llandough (hospital). Do not, at any cost, smoke it. It’s bad stuff, you don’t know what’s in it, it’s not a drug to smoke and not for human consumption.
"I’m off it now and I hope to stay off it. I’ve got my focus set. I’m going to do my utmost best to stay off it because I know what it does and I’ve seen good friends die."
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South Wales Police says spice is “highly-unpredictable and dangerous” but that "incidents of its use remains very low" in the area.
However, Inspector Simon Davies said: "Almost daily we receive reports of individuals who are under the influence of spice. Sometimes they are violent or committing anti-social behaviour, other times they appear to be in a comatose state which is obviously a big concern to us all."
The force is working with Cardiff council, drug support agencies and homeless charity The Wallich to tackle it.
Instead of arresting those found in possession of Spice, they will be referred immediately to a welfare vehicle in the city centre, unless they are suspected of committing more serious offences.
Local policing inspector Phillip Griffiths said dealing is met with "zero tolerance".
Cardiff council has an outreach team working in the city every day to make people who might need them aware of the services available.
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