ELKHART — Switching to "fake" made sense to Brian when he saw how much cheaper and easier it was to get compared to real marijuana.
Brian, who asked his last name be held from the story because he is an active member in the Elkhart community, said it took him a while to figure out just how dependent his body was becoming to synthetic marijuana.
He smoked synthetic drugs for about six months, starting in October, 2013 and quitting in March.
The first time Brian smoked it he felt sick. It was the feeling that he was too high to stay up, so he went to bed.
He said he kept smoking it every time he started feeling sick, and at that point Brian didn't look to get high. He just wanted to get rid of a constant sickness that forced him to take a hit every two hours.
"I started opening my eyes but it took me six months to build up the courage to physically get off of it," Brian said. "Mentally I knew I wanted to get off of it, but physically I couldn't."
Brian became comfortable with smoking iBlown, a "brand" of so-called incense that comes in a small packet with a label that looks like an iPod.
He would drive to the gas station at 1403 Franklin Ave. at about 2:30 p.m., where he would ask for "fake" and give the clerk behind the desk a $20 bill. Brian would also buy a packet of cigarettes so as to not go out the store looking empty-handed.
The clerks were often friendly and casual about selling synthetic drugs to Brian, he said. If they ran out the kind he smoked, they would recommend others that had a similar taste.
Brian said, one time, a police officer was in the convenience store when he walked in to buy a packet of iBlown. Instead of asking for the usual, Brian told the clerk he just wanted a packet of cigarettes, to which the clerk responded "no fake today?" and ended up giving him the drugs anyway.
What bothered Brian the most was that many of the stores' clients seemed to be teenagers. He once saw a line going around the block that was formed for purchasing synthetic marijuana. Half of the people in that line looked like they were high school students.
"I don't want the kids getting all caught up in that," he said. "It's one thing for adults to make mistakes. But what are (dealers) going after these kids for?"
He kept going for his own fix, nonetheless.
Neighborhood convenience stores are not the only ways someone can get the drugs. Anyone can go online and purchase either the packets or the chemicals that are sprayed on the herbs, Brian said.
His neighbor stopped going to the stores and started buying a batch from someone who sprayed his own herbs instead.
Brian said he recalls a time he was walking down the street near the convenience store on Franklin Street when a man in a car approached him and offered to sell synthetic drugs.
The man in the car offered to sell the same product $5 cheaper and gave Brian a piece of paper with his cell phone number on it. Brian discarded the piece of paper and never called because he wasn't comfortable purchasing drugs from somewhere else.
Four months into his habit, Brian started reading about the withdrawals.
"I knew I had to get off of it, with me being a single parent and being as involved in the community as I am," he said. "But I knew it was going to take days".
Brian said that as he did research about synthetic drugs, he read about the many variations of side effects for people who have used it. Although he didn't experience hallucinations or psychotic episodes, Brian didn't like what he was going through.
He had started smoking a packet of iBlown once every week and a half, he said. A few months in, he was smoking one packet a day. He started sneaking drugs with him into work so he could smoke when he felt sick.
Brian's plan was to quit cold turkey. He arranged to take some time off work and made sure his children were being taken care of by their mother. He was going to lock himself in his house for a few days while he went through the withdrawal stage.
A week before his planned withdrawal period, Brian sat down and talked with his son.
"My son knew what was going on. He smelled it, so he called me out on it," Brian said. "My son and I have a good relationship."
His son told Brian of students in high school, some friends of his, who are dealing with drug abuse issues, and how he's tried talking them out of using.
The next week, Brian got ready to get the synthetic drugs out of his system.
But that was easier said than done.
Brian said he had asked a friend to come through a couple times to check on him. He kept movies and video games close by to pass time. He made sure to stock up on fruits and protein shakes to stay hydrated and fed.
As soon as he got home from dropping his children off at their mother's house, Brian locked himself in his home, lit one last bowl and went to sleep.
"That night at three in the morning was when I started getting really sick," Brian said. "I couldn't sleep. From there on out, it was complete misery."
Brian never ended up watching his movies or playing his video games. He felt sick most of the time. He reluctantly drank protein shakes to gain some of the weight he had lost from lack of eating.
A few days later Brian went back to work, but it took him about two weeks to feel physically normal. To feel "mentally normal," it took Brian about four weeks, he said.
"I don't know if it's from coming off the drug, but mentally I had to really think hard to do some of the simplest things," Brian said.
Quitting synthetic drugs was the most difficult thing Brian has ever done, he said.
"When I started reading about it they said it was the equivalent to heroine," he said. "I've never done hard drugs, I have no idea what it's like, but I know coming off this fake stuff is unreal."
Brian said he called the police department to report the convenience store. A detective asked Brian if he was interested in becoming a cooperative source.
By then, Brian was cutting all ties to his former drug habit.
"I didn't want to go anywhere near that place again," he said. "I didn't want to smoke it before I even quit smoking it. So I didn't want to go through that situation again."