Anonymous | Photography by Jennifer Hawks | Owl Staff

What does addiction mean to you? What constitutes being an “addict?” A heroin user desperately roaming the city streets, willing to commit any petty, pathetic act for his fix? A cigarette smoker nervously walking about, chewing her fingernails, snapping angrily at anyone in her path, having gone mere hours without a dose of nicotine? 

These are two of the most common examples of addiction, but my own experiences with substance abuse showed me that addiction is a relative term and is not so easy to define. 

Synthetic substitutes for marijuana are nothing new; products labeled Salvia Divonorum have been commercially available for over a decade, used originally by Mazatec shamans during spiritual healing sessions. Salvia has traditionally been looked at as marijuana’s slightly more psychedelic counterpart, and most tokers will attest to having tried it. 

Spice has been available for a couple of years now, hidden about head shops and some of the seedier gas stations around Harford County. Spice is a psychoactive designer drug, a combination of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana that are marketed as safe and legal—and dubiously labeled “not for human consumption.” 

These products contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for their psychoactive effects… i.e. absolutely nothing natural like cannabis or salvia. The reason I started smoking spice regularly (multiple times daily) is irrelevant, but the story I wish to tell is anything but. 

At first it was nice, really. A cheap, legal drug that was a five-minute drive from home, no worries about availability or illegality. It was sold two ways as I remember it; the less potent 4g jars for around $20, the strong stuff in 1g bags for $25 and up. 

It gave me a nice, even high for sure: Elation, giggles, music sounded better, and munchies. But that was the stuff that came in the jars. You couldn’t really smoke enough to get messed up, but it was okay. Aside from the nasty taste it left lingering in your mouth for hours and headaches that came after a heavy night of smoking. 

After a while, it just stopped working. I chalked it up to tolerance and sprang for a bag of Spike Max: one gram for $25 (estimated street value of marijuana is $20/gram). This was the potent stuff that could really mess you up. 

It was a mistake. 

I vividly remember that night. It was cold out, close to Christmas. I tore open the bag voraciously, looking forward to my fix (at that point it was already a “fix,” whether I knew it or not), and dumped a full bowl’s worth of the herbal mixture into my glass pipe. I flicked the lighter and inhaled, savoring the cloyingly artificial sweet flavor. 

I finished the whole thing in about five minutes, and felt damn good, too. A nice heady high with some relatively pleasant bodily effects. I remember feeling floaty. So, I smoked a cigarette and went inside to watch TV. 

Then, things got weird. The room started spinning; I began sweating. My vision started to blur, break, then return to normal. My heart was racing and my stomach turning. I vaguely remember stripping off all of my clothes, save for boxers, and stumbling outside to the front porch where I collapsed in the fetal position. 

The cold brick felt so good on my face. I vomited (a lot, and for a long time). My heart continued to race even faster, my vision faded to black, and I began to cry, still feeling nauseous. I swore I was dying. I guess this is the high that I had been looking for. 

So, after that night, I threw away the spice and went about my business and never looked back. I was better without it – it was dangerous. 

Except, that didn’t happen. I kept smoking, carefully gauging the amount I smoked so as not to get sick; to get to that perfectly intoxicated spot between reality and insanity that spice could provide. 

“The room started spinning; I began sweating. My vision started to blur, break, then return to normal. My heart was racing and my stomach turning. I vaguely remember stripping off all of my clothes, save for boxers, and stumbling outside to the front porch where I collapsed in the fetal position.”

But it was such a thin line; I overshot it plenty of times and relived that cold night over and over, sweating and sick, heart racing. I found that as the days and weeks went by I needed to smoke more and more to feel normal. I smoked fewer cigarettes because they made me nauseous while on spice. 

I rationalized this as a good thing. I got horrible chills if I had to go more than a few hours without a smoke. I remember that I’d smoke an obscene amount before bedtime, and when I inevitably woke up to use the bathroom, I couldn’t fall back asleep without a couple puffs. 

The first thing I did upon opening my eyes in the morning was reach for my glass pipe and jar of spice. Then, I’d try to find my glasses. It made me that kind of backwards. 

This continued for months. I slowly came to realize that I was spending over a hundred dollars a week on a drug that was making me hate myself. 

I couldn’t sleep, eat, or socially function without my frequent fixes. I was sneaking behind the dumpster at work to get a quick puff in between cigarette breaks. I gained weight; I began forgetting things I shouldn’t have, and on the whole I just felt… dull. 

Every day consisted of wading through molasses. Going through the motions was now second to smoking spice. 

I kicked the habit after a week spent lying in bed shivering, sweating, and just being generally miserable. I’ve had friends and even relatives who have been through the same situation, who have witnessed the side effects of prolonged use of spice firsthand. 

The irony of the whole situation is that the general opinion on spice is that its legality somehow lends credibility to the product’s safety, making it an especially attractive alternative to marijuana. 

Spice is marketed as “not for human consumption,” and is sold in bags marked “herbal incense” or “organic sachets.” Regardless of the name, the product is a blatant legal alternative to marijuana, and many consider it a safer alternative. This is obviously not the case and people need to be aware that “legal” does not always entail “safe.” 

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