After nearly dying from a drug overdose, Colby Taft is still trying to piece together everything that happened last week after he smoked a form of synthetic marijuana known as “spice.”
On Tuesday, May 6, Taft was at Sultan City Hall when he began having uncontrollable seizures as a result of smoking spice. He was hospitalized at Valley General Hospital in Monroe, and released to a relative sometime on Wednesday morning.
On Thursday May 8, in between 4 and 5 p.m., another Sultan teenager was at City Hall when he went into convulsions after smoking spice. He was released the following day; information on that case was not immediately available.
That made twice in one week that emergency medical technicians were rushed to Sultan City Hall to tend to teenagers who began experiencing seizures after using the synthetic substance which is commonly sold at “head” shops and tobacco stores.
Taft, an 18-year-old student at Sultan High School, was not having a good day last Tuesday. After being caught at school with marijuana, he was given a 20-day suspension and escorted from the school. Since his marijuana had been confiscated, the teen decided to smoke some spice, which is available at local smoke shops. He remembers smoking it, but after that, things start to get a little fuzzy.
“I don’t know; I had like two or three bowls of it, and then I started, like, having seizures,” said Taft.
Taft’s friend, Josue Zavala, was with him when it happened.
“He was throwing up and kept convulsing outside,” said Zavala. “He did it like eight times. We kept trying to get him up.”
His friends attempted to take him to the hospital, but Taft was uncontrollable. Somebody who spotted the commotion called 911 and an aid car arrived shortly thereafter.
“They had to restrain me because I was having seizures and like hitting people and stuff,” said Taft. “I can’t even explain it. I was like in my own universe, right? I thought I was dead.”
“I started hallucinating and stuff,” he continued. “Apparently I was, like, banging my head against the ground.”
“He died twice,” said Zavala, who explained that he watched as medical technicians used a defibrillator on Taft.
Spice is often referred to as synthetic marijuana. Essentially, the drug consists of organic material that has been doused with chemicals, chemicals that can have unpredictable side effects.
Although spice was permanently banned in Washington State in 2011, it seems to fly under the radar in terms of legality. Marketed as an “herbal incense” or “potpourri,” as soon as one particular chemical composition is made illegal, manufacturers alter their recipe, making it difficult for lawmakers to stay ahead of the curve. While the packaging does state “not for human consumption,” it also features misleading terminology such as “chronic” and “hypnotic.”
Recently, Time Magazine did a story in which they reported that over 100 people in Texas had overdosed on spice in a five-day period of time.
Taft and a few of his friends talked about how easily the substance is obtained at local smoke shops. Although spice is not typically out on display, a customer merely needs to know what to ask for.
“They don’t sell it to everyone,” said one young man. “It’s kind of like an under-the-counter thing.”
“They only sell it to certain people,” agreed another one of Taft’s friends.
A five-gram package of “Black Voodoo” spice is sold for $25.99 at local head shops.
Part of the drug’s appeal is the fact that it is undetectable in ordinary drug tests. A standard urinalysis test will pick up marijuana or methamphetamine, but unless spice manufacturers use specific detectable substances in their chemical compositions like opiates or benzodiazepines, the drug will not produce a positive result.
Spice can cause seizures, paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety, accelerated heart rate, vomiting and even death. Just ask Colby Taft, who experienced almost all of those things. According to several Sultan teens, while the substance may not cause a negative experience for all who choose to use it, it’s unpredictable and not worth the risk. One person described it as being similar to a “peanut allergy;” safe for some while deadly for others.
Taft said that, as of Friday, he was still feeling “weird” and not like himself.
Taft’s mom, Jaime Taft, has been frustrated with her son’s marijuana use, but she was not expecting the text that she received from him on Wednesday morning asking her to help him get released from the hospital.
Once she understood that he had overdosed on spice, she posted the information on Facebook so that other parents would be aware of what had happened. Particularly, she wanted to spread word that the substance is readily available to young people. The incident caught the attention of Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick, as well as Sultan School District Superintendent Dan Chaplik, who reached out to her out of concern.
Jaime Taft said that she welcomed both the city’s response as well as the response of the school district.
“I was not expecting a personal phone call from the superintendent,” said Taft. “He was very concerned about what happened.”
Mayor Eslick took it one step further. After contacting Sultan Police Chief Monte Beaton and making him aware of the situation, she went to the local smoke shop and attempted to purchase “Black Voodoo” spice for herself. She described her experience to Sultan City Council during the council meeting on Thursday, May 8.
“They wouldn’t sell it to me,” said Eslick.
Jaime Taft appreciated the city’s willingness to take action. After doing research on the phenomenon of spice and other synthetic drugs, she was appalled at the fact that the stores continue to sell it. She feels that the vibrant, catchy looking packages are clearly marketed towards children.
“It’s wrong. It’s totally wrong,” said Jaime Taft.
Colby Taft suffered an additional disappointment on Friday, when he failed his senior presentation. The school district, wanting to provide him with the opportunity to graduate, allowed him to give his presentation regardless of the suspension. Taft says that he is planning on giving his presentation again next week.
He says that he does not want to smoke any more spice.
“I’m done with that,” said Taft. “I don’t even have the urge to smoke it anymore.”
For a detailed analysis of the actual chemicals used in spice, see:
For a sense of just how prevalent is the incidence of spice-associated seizures, use this Google search term. “smoking spice and seizures” and watch the massive number of results.
The most compelling is a Youtube video of a kid seizing, and for scientific analysis that goes beyond anecdotal evidence, there’s a study by the National Center for Biotechnical Information that is of interest.
Reviews even by devoted users often comment on how frightening it can be, see: http://www.toketwo.com/
(Know that the above are devotees of the use of “spice.”)
If you are interested in learning more about what actual users say about the stuff, check this site.