Education Through Tragedy

December 3, 2011
On a warm July night in 2010, my close friend David was smoking spice with a few of my friends in one of my friend’s backyard. After smoking, they decided to sit and talk around a fire pit to relax. Unfortunately, David was unsettled mentally after smoking and was having an irrational panic attack. Having no history of panic attacks or depression, David confused my friends as to why he was acting so strange and how they should react to this behavior, especially in their own very altered states of mind. David stood up obviously upset and rattled. He began shouting wild claims about his presence in the world; these claims consisted of ideas such as “God hates me and wants me to end everything; he doesn’t want me to keep living this way!” My friends were beyond baffled because David had always been so well adjusted and never made such strange claims. After his short panic attack he ran off before my friends could react to his flustered actions and try to calm him.

David drove home and ended up on the couch in his basement. Surrounded by green Packers posters and signed Brett Favre memorabilia in his Packers laden basement, David removed his favorite pistol from its case and gathered the cleaning materials for the gun. Even though the gun had been cleaned previously after using it, David cleaned the gun, loaded it, and ended his life without anyone knowing it. A few hours later, I received phone calls from each of my friends, all of whom were in tears and unintelligible. It took at least 10 minutes on the phone with my close friend, who had just smoked with David, to understand what had happened, and another few days to really comprehend it.

Spice is chemically treated incense that is smoked in the same ways as marijuana. It has hallucinogenic effects similar to marijuana, but the effects are more quickly felt and more intense than those of marijuana. The similarities between marijuana and spice entice many young adults and adolescents to smoke spice, as well as the facts that spice will not appear in drug testing and is currently legal in most states. Spice’s legality and novelty have kept it from being assessed medically and prohibited nationwide.

Sadly, it has taken tragedies like David’s death to bring attention to the drug. While some people enjoy smoking spice because of its alluring marijuana-like effects, few know the real dangers in smoking such a potent substance. It took the death of a good friend for me to learn just how dangerous spice is, and this knowledge has led me to the conclusion that spice should be made illegal throughout the U.S.

In order to understand just how dangerous smoking spice is, imagine that you and your friends are headed to a bridge to dangle your legs over the edge and talk. This bridge is high enough above the river below that the ripples and waves on the surface of the water aren’t perceptible from your position on the bridge. Many of your friends know how big of a rush it is to jump from the bridge to the chilly waters below and have jumped into the river enough that they aren’t worried or hesitant. Unfortunately, their lack of worry stems from having never realized that there are sharp rocks in certain areas just below the surface of the water that pose a grave danger.

With a certain blissful ignorance, one of your friends strips down and makes a long, running jump off the bridge into the cool water. He does his signature can opener trick in an attempt to splash you and your friends but fails to spray anyone because of how high the bridge is from the water. As he comes up from the water he exhales sharply and gulps for air because of the shocking cool sting of the river water. The rest of your friends hurriedly undress and take turns jumping in. Splashes and shouts fill the wooded area as your friends frolic in the water.

Your close friend has just climbed back to the bridge and is ready to jump again. He shoots you a wink, as if to say, “Wait till you see this,” then jumps. You watch him do a double backflip in the air and crash through the surface of the deep water. You cheer for the impressive showing, but stop when you realize that your friend has been underwater for an inordinate amount of time. Looking down you see a deep red cloud permeating from his location and immediately feel your heart fall in your chest as you realize it is blood. A cold smell of fear and adrenaline overcomes you as you frantically rush to help your friend.

Suddenly you realize where you are as you pace the waiting room of the emergency care wing of your local hospital. You can remember the events leading up to your friend’s accident but the trauma has caused you to blank on how you got to the hospital and your friend’s horrible condition as he was dragged out of the water. The doctor informs you, your friends, and your injured friend’s family that your friend died minutes after making it to the emergency room. Your life will never be the same.

Because none of your friends knew there were dangerous rocks in the water, they jumped with the assumption that it would be safe. Similar to spice, the rocks created a hidden dangerous situation that ended with tragic consequences. You’ll never see your friend again all because of a seemingly innocent action like jumping into a river or smoking incense and it is mainly because you and your friends had no idea of the real danger lurking just under the surface.

Hearing of my friend’s death was gut wrenching but I knew the worst was yet to come. Dealing with the fallout of David’s death wasn’t easy. That July night, after getting off the phone with my friends, my girlfriend and I drove to David’s house from her lake house, a few hours away. Talking to David’s parents and some police officers that night was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Having been close to David and his family as well as having been around David when he had smoked spice, I was still in shock and disbelief. I kept imagining I would see David walking out of the house or would go swimming with him the next day. The irrationality of his actions created uncertainties in my own life and actions as we carried on without him, and I found myself with a burning hole full of questions and no shovel. Why? Where did this come from? These are all questions I have yet to find answers to.

Some people might toss out anecdotal evidence as being rare instances or cases where the victim was under special circumstance, but David was the last person I imagined would end his or her life. David was an honor student and a leader in our high school marching band as well as a very charismatic person who could relate to anyone. A lot of efforts were made to help everyone move on after David’s death, but for a long time the damage was too immense to console. My friend whom I had never seen doubt himself, never seen with a bad attitude, who always had a positive outlook on every aspect of life, had ended his life after smoking a supposedly harmless incense.

Many weeks later, David’s parents and brother, along with the support of my friends and me, worked to ban spice at the state level. Commercials and interviews provided advertisement for the banning of spice and soon people all across Iowa knew of David and his family’s situation. After a few months, spice was officially banned throughout the state. I was glad to see the result because I didn’t want anyone to have to go through what my friends, David’s family, and I went through. A state law and several tattoos my friends got in his memory have eternalized David’s death but a year and a half later I still remember and miss my friend and will not forget how terribly spice has affected all our lives.

Because of the ignorance of the dangers of spice in the U.S. today, it is necessary to inform as many people as possible about the real effects of such a dangerous drug. It should be widely known that spice is just as dangerous as highly illegal drugs, but hasn’t been prohibited because it is such a new drug. From firsthand experience I can confidently say I will always explain the dangers of spice to smokers, and I will always refuse to smoke spice. Just because a drug is legal doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be critically looked at before a decision to use the drug is made. After hearing primary evidence of the dangers of smoking spice, I think many people would agree upon the possible risks; however, many have yet to be informed of the dangers. Spice is a dangerous substance especially when users are unable to see the rocks below the surface of the water.





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