Sypho Turner is only 56 years old, but when he sits on the trash-strewn pavement below the Southwest Freeway overpass near the Wheeler Metro Station in Midtown, the low light deepens his cracked skin, turns his toothless smile into a black pit and makes his battered face look like a well-worn catcher’s mitt. He’d pass for at least a few decades older, perhaps even for a corpse. Years of smoking crack cocaine will do that to a man. But the fresh bruises and scabs on his arms and head — “battle scars,” as Sypho excitedly describes them — aren’t from crack. In fact, Sypho says, he hasn’t smoked crack or even weed in a few years. His scars are instead from kush, the new drug of choice among Houston’s homeless.
Kush gets Sypho higher than he’s ever been. He says he practically floats. But he has to be careful — if he doesn’t eat, kush ties his stomach into knots and makes him vomit. Sometimes he blacks out and hallucinates, or feels things crawling on him. He has keeled over on the spot after smoking kush, smacking his head on the unforgiving concrete. He’s woken up in the middle of the street after being hit by a car, and found himself in Bellaire or Acres Homes without the slightest idea how he got there. One time, when he was being transported to Ben Taub Hospital after a bad reaction to kush, he was so uncontrollably violent that he “went berserk” and tried to fight everyone in the ambulance. They had to tie him down and sedate him. “It feels like you’re dying,” Sypho says. “But it’s the best high I’ve ever had. When you wake up, it’s back to normal. You just want more.”