When Roseanna Gillette stole a package of her favorite synthetic marijuana from a local head shop, she realized just how strong her addiction was and that she needed to get off the intoxicant.
That was mid-December. Now, Gillette is three weeks clean and wants others to know how dangerous the legal synthetic drug can be.
“I started because I had to pass a drug test,” she said.
But her initial casual use of the fake marijuana turned into daily use.
“I woke up with a bowl and I went to bed with a bowl,” she said. A “bowl” is type of smoking pipe for drugs.
Gillette’s favorite kind of fake pot was Brain Freeze, a brand of Happy Shaman herbal incense.
“You would think it would be the same effects as marijuana. It’s not. The detox is hard on this stuff, not to mention the impact of who you become on this stuff,” she said.
Just because it’s available in a store doesn’t make it safe, she said. In 2010, Gillette had to drive to Gate City, Va., to get the synthetic marijuana. The product was banned in Virginia, but by that time it was available in Johnson City.
“It was an easy fix. I could walk into the store with 10 bucks and walk out with a gram and a half. That would last a day at one time. It got to where I could have nine grams and it wouldn’t be enough,” she said.
Gillette said it became as routine as buying a pack of cigarettes.
“There’s a lot of these out there. There’s Dead Man Walking, Happy Shaman Smiley, K2 pink, K2 blue, K2 blonde and Voo Doo,” she said.
“The Brain Freeze became .... I was like a madman with it,” Gillette said. “That’s all I wanted. ... before too long, my mind and my morals and my mental state went away.”
Brain Freeze took over Gillette’s life, she said, and she borrowed and begged for money from family and friends just so she could get her fix.
She became verbally abusive to her parents when they would no longer give her money.
But it was the day she stole a package of Brain Freeze that Gillette realized she really had a problem.
She went to a local hospital and asked for help and ended up in a detox facility for three days.
“The detox of this stuff was horrible. It was probably the worst detox I’ve ever been through,” she said.
“I begged for my life at times on this stuff. It is really dangerous,” she said, and believes “the only reason God saved my life is to tell that this stuff is bad. It’s like the devil.
“You can go weeks and days without marijuana, but with this stuff you can’t.” After her detox, she called numerous rehab facilities and realized no one knew how to deal with the synthetic drugs. So far, she’s been able to stay clean on her own.
“People need to understand you can get off of it.”
Gillette’s experience with synthetic drugs stopped with the fake marijuana. After seeing the effects bath salts had on others, she was afraid to do the salts.
Bath salts is part of the reason Peggy Phillips’ son Shannon ended up in ICU at Holston Valley Medical Center in an induced coma for nearly a week.
On Friday, Phillips said her son was awake and talking, but doesn’t remember much about the night he smoked synthetic marijuana laced with bath salts. Her 18-year-old son’s overdose late last month forced doctors to strap him to his bed because of his hallucinations and combative behavior.
He was in the induced coma nearly two weeks and now vows to stay away from the fake stuff.
“Never again. Not gonna touch that stuff. Nope,” Phillips said, shaking his head while lying in his room at Holston Valley Medical Center.
“I’m not going to tell you that I’m not going to smoke (regular) marijuana, but this synthetic stuff, it did stuff to me that I didn’t think was possible. I had smoked it before, but it just took me over that night. All I remember was trying to kill the cat. I have smoked (synthetic marijuana) for about a year and a half, and it never went wrong like this.”
He said he used the synthetic products because he was on probation, but wanted to get high. Because the products don’t show up on a drug screen, it’s an alternative for many in his situation.
Shannon’s mother, Peggy, decided to take her son’s ordeal to the media last week to let people know about what these designer drugs, which are currently illegal to possess and use in Kingsport, can do.
After her son was admitted into intensive care at HVMC last month, she drove to the smoke shop in Kingsport that allegedly sold her son the K2 to confront the management about what had happened.
Peggy repeated her intention Friday to fight the sale and use of the substance. It took 14 days to finally get the majority of the chemical ingested into his body out of his system, but there could be long-term damage for the remainder of his life.
“Shannon won’t be the same. But we will have him home, and we will help him. That is better than the alternative,” Peggy said.
Another local woman who asked to remain anonymous said her grandson became a totally different person when he smoked synthetic marijuana.
Earlier this month, he took her car and was eventually found on Marbleton Road. The car battery was dead, his phone was dead and he was asleep. Just a few days later, he wanted to borrow his grandmother’s car again. “He came over and asked for my car keys and I said no. I have a glass door, he slammed it and shattered it and cut his arm,” she said.
“Last night he called and asked me to call 911,” she said several weeks ago.
It was a relief because since her grandson is 18, she can’t force him to do anything. But his behavior was beginning to scare her.
“They become violent, paranoid, he’s lost weight, he’s skin and bones, he paces up and down,” she said.
On Friday, the woman said her grandson was OK for a little while after spending a few days in the hospital, but has since started using the synthetic drugs again.
He’s started asking for money, too, but she won’t give him any.
“It’s destroyed our family,” the woman said.
Her grandson’s behavior had gotten so bad, family members are afraid of him, she said.
Mike Johnson said he first learned about synthetic marijuana after his son smoked some he got at school.
“He paid $10 for a small amount,” Johnson said.
That small amount was enough to make his son unresponsive, have a high heart rate and vomit.
“He went online and learned how to make a bong and he smoked it,” Johnson said. “It was late at night and his mom heard him banging around,” and went to check on him.
“He had hit the ground, was unresponsive and was in a daze.” At the hospital, medical staff kept asking Johnson’s son if he had taken cocaine.
“His heart rate was 199 beats per minute,” Johnson said. “He was ashen. ... He looked dead.”
Johnson said he hopes something will be done to ban the products that put his son in the hospital.
NET News Service contributed to this report.