This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade's photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.


Synthetic cannabinoid-receptor agonists may precipitate psychosis in vulnerable individuals, as shown by recent experience within a New Zealand forensic psychiatric in-patient service.

Since 2006, a number of novel products such as K2, Spice, Aroma and Dream have appeared, masquerading as ‘herbal incense’ but marketed as cannabis substitutes. These products are surprisingly psychoactive. Mass spectrometry reveals the reason for their potency: the benign ‘herbal’ ingredients specified on the packaging have been deliberately adulterated with unlisted synthetic cannabinoid-receptor agonists such as CP47,497 [1], JWH-018 [1] and HU-210 [2]. These cannabimimetics have been declared illegal in some countries, but JWH compounds remain unregulated in many countries, including New Zealand and the United States (although banned recently in seven American states).

While there is a significant growing body of evidence that cannabis is associated with the development and exacerbation of psychosis in some individuals (e.g. [3]), almost nothing is known about the metabolism, toxicology and psychiatric effects of these new cannabimimetic agents. A recent literature search found two case reports relating to Spice (which at that time contained JWH-018 and CP47,497): one report involved tolerance and withdrawal phenomena [4] and the other described drug-induced psychosis [5].¹

Beauty, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.

Beauty disappeared again, to Staten Island with her man, Heavy. Or so was rumored several weeks after her disappearing. This is her cycle, these vanishings to somewhere close by. A manner of being close that's somehow far.

Here, no one drifts far -- too expensive and without purpose, too far from drugs or the security of easily getting drugs.

It was found that she was with Heavy again, after leaving him before, back when they planned marriage to be housed in a shelter together. She left because he started smoking crack like her mom, a habit so imbedded into her mother's way of being that Beauty cannot stand it. She has sworn never to do it, never to smoke or to shoot the awful stuff, a promise maintained three years after working Hunts Point, watching other women's paranoia and mania.

She simply smokes K2, the legal potpourri sold in the bodega, the stuff she now cannot do without and has seizures by. K2 helps her chill, doesn't matter that those who smoke crack and shoot heroin find it scary as shit. To her it is not as bad, though, now, after the seizures, she wonders.

Within two weeks of the move to Staten Island, she had already been with and left another pimp, and Heavy left his apartment on Staten Island for Astoria, Queens. (Problems with the landlord.)

Heavy now lives in projects in Astoria with a woman he met while in a psychiatric ward, one he met when he broke down and went to the hospital after Beauty left him the last time.

Beauty lives there too, with them, not minding in the least if the other woman wants to suck his cock instead. She stakes no claim. She prefers it this way.

She had another seizure the other night while she slept. Heavy and the other girl said she bent forward on the bed. When she woke, her tongue and lip were swollen from assault by her teeth.

She still comes to Hunts Point because she has a habit she needs to satisfy, and they're lazy. They don't leave the house, and she can't go without K2. She gets nasty without it.

She grabs a few dates in Astoria when she can. The other day, she made an offer to a man who ran the car wash, but a tow truck flashed its lights at her first. Nothing big, a couple of blow jobs. It's not sustainable work. Men aren't as used to looking for a fuck there.

At the gas station in Hunts Point, she shoves napkins that she took from the 711 up her dress as she speaks, stores a couple in her bra. She makes kissing faces at a Spanish guy. The men here know what they want.

And she wants more K2. That's where it's at.


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