Another death. Another grieving family. Another beautiful life cut short because of synthetic marijuana.
We would like to offer our sincere condolences to Kathleen Gaspar’s family, and pray that justice will be done.
Thank you, Shannon Sheehan, for coming forward, for sharing your story, and for helping us to fight synthetic marijuana.
Your courage and inspiration may have already saved lives.
Steve Stout, firstname.lastname@example.org, 815-431-4082
Following a family tragedy last fall, Shannon Sheehan of Ottawa is on a crusade.
“My mother, Kathleen Gaspar, died last September following a fall inside her Marseilles home,” said Sheehan. “And, although her death certificate says she died of massive head injuries, I am sure it was fake, synthetic pot that took her life.”
Sheehan, 31, a mother of two, wants to spread the word about the “little known dangers of synthetic pot and other drugs” gaining popularity across the state and nation.
Holding a photograph of her mother, 53, Sheehan explained it is her belief her mother smoked synthetic marijuana purchased from a local convenience store, became disoriented (“possibly delusional”) and stumbled around into walls and furniture around the house before finally falling, fatally striking her head.
“At the time of her death, my mom was a vibrant, healthy woman interested in life, her children and her grandchildren,” Sheehan said. “She believed, because the fake pot was legal and sold over the counter, that it would be harmless.”
Looking back, Sheehan admitted she knew her mother purchased the synthetic drug marketed with the appropriate name Stoopid from an Ottawa convenience store. “We talked about it. It was the first time she’d ever bought anything like that. I tried to talk her out of it (smoking), but she said she just wanted to experiment with it once.”
Sheehan also admitted what she and her mother didn’t know at the time — fake pot can be 100 times more potent than street marijuana, according to experts.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency extended for another six months its emergency ban on five synthetic cannabinoids used to manufacture “fake weed” products. The chemicals are sprayed on herbal mixtures and the resulting product is sold under such names as Spice, K2 and Stoopid.
The agency initially enacted the ban a year ago, but that emergency ban was set to expire March 1. The DEA published the extension in the federal register that same day.
The extension continues the ban on five synthetic cannabinoids: JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497 (that’s all one chemical CP-47,497) and cannabicyclohexanol. The ban means those substances are treated as Schedule I drugs under federal law.
“Schedule 1 substances are reserved for those substances with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision,” said DEA officials in a recent media release.
To combat the spread of the material, Illinois outlawed specific brands of synthetic drugs, such as K2 and Spice, in January 2011 and went a step further to ban all chemicals with “structural derivatives of the previously banned chemicals” in January 2012.
Following that initial ban in 2011, manufacturers of synthetic drugs found ways to alter their chemical compositions, which usually are simply sprayed onto various herbs, and repackage the materials, which make them technically legal to sell again.
La Salle County State’s Attorney Brian Towne said that is exactly the reason criminal laws for these synthetics are constantly evolving.
“I think it’s an unfortunate situation that some people have the misconception that because it is legal right now, that it is safe,” said Towne. “These products are not safe. People are getting ill and are dying as a result of (using) this material.”
Towne concluded, “These manufacturers are out to make a buck and they care little about their potential victims.”
Ottawa narcotic detective Marc Hoster told The Times his department has made a few arrests in the last year for possession of synthetic contraband and city officers have made several compliance checks of materials found for sale in local shops. However, to date, test results from the state crime lab on the products, packaged as incense, have not found any illegal materials.
Last week, Illinois Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 5233, proposed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan, that tightens regulations and closes loopholes when it comes to synthetic drugs. Madigan said the bill would make it tougher to sell these “legal” drugs and makes penalties tougher for those retailers who do.
According to an Illinois Attorney General spokesman, in 2010, Poison Control Centers nationwide received 2,915 emergency calls related to synthetic marijuana use. That figure jumped to 6,890 calls in 2011.
Besides dealing with the pain of her mother’s death, Sheehan also was affected by the death last summer of 17-year-old Max Dobner of Aurora, who died when, after allegedly smoking synthetic marijuana, he crashed a car into a house while driving 100 mph.
“Max’s mother, Karen, started the To the Maximus Foundation, a support group whose mission is raising awareness on the deadly dangers of fake pot and its eradication,” Sheehan said. She explained she is working with the group to promote those dangers and to help save lives.
“You know, on the labels of this poison, it says, ‘Not for human consumption,'” said Sheehan. “I want to educate people about the real consequences of using these so-called ‘legal drugs.’ ”
Looking at her mother’s photo, she said using such substances “is playing Russian Roulette with your life.”
For more information on the life of Max Dobner and the crusade against synthetic marijuana, visit http://www.tothemaximus.org.
Teens and young adults are the primary users of synthetic drugs. The long-term effects of the drugs are not yet known and many drug tests do not detect the synthetic substances.
Reported side effects of fake pot include:
- Paranoid delusions.
- Exaggerated thoughts of suicide.
- Panic attacks.
- Temporary paralysis.
- Inability to feel pain.
- Feeling of impending doom.