Special Report: Lethal High

(WALA) – Synthetic marijuana, also known as ‘Spice’, is creeping into your communities at an alarming rate.

It’s illegal in Alabama; outlawed in 2011. But it’s not stopping the lethal drug from destroying families all across the state.

The word Spice may sound innocent. It’s even marketed as incense or potpourri.

However, Spice is made with chemicals that can have unpredictable psychotic effects. It can take you to a dark place that you may not survive.


“He was the best son anyone could ever ask for.”

Raising Brandon Murphree was the joy of his parents’ lives. He was their only child.

“He was a little chunky growing up, and then all of a sudden he just blossomed into this Justin Bieber type. He went from skinny to what we call husky… then he just went to good looking,” said Brandon’s mom, Lori Murphree.

Murphree graduated at the top of his class and earned a full scholarship.

“He did a lot with me. He’d come home and talk to me. He felt like he could tell me anything. That’s what I wanted him to do,” said Lori.

But the teen had a secret he kept from his parents. Friends said he was smoking Spice. Now his family believes that’s what killed him.

Lori said she remembered her son wanting to take off and go to Florida, about five hours away from their home in Anniston.

“He said, ‘Just listen… Just roll with it…’ That’s what he said, ‘Just roll with it.’ He asked me if he could go to Florida. I said, ‘No, you can’t go to Florida,'” she said.

She said it was a plan that didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

“He said everybody was in Florida and he was lonely. And this is what is hard with me to live with, because when he said, ‘I’m lonely.’ The boy’s never been lonely. He’s got friends; his friends are always over here. So when he said, ‘I’m lonely,’ I snickered and said. ‘Boy, you are really grasping for straws now aren’t you?'” she remembered.

Lori said her son kept pressing the issue and that it seemed so out of the blue to her, but she stood her ground.

“He was still on the Florida trip. And I was like, ‘I can’t believe you. I can’t talk to you right now.’ He was still on the Florida trip. Those were my last words to him,” she said.

The Murphrees said their son found his father’s pistol.

“It was like he lost touch with reality. He had to just rummage through the room and just under everything, because he had no clue where it was at. Never seen it but one time. He went to the bedroom and shot himself,” said Brandon’s dad, Steve Murphree. “She comes running out screaming. I run into the room and just laid with him until the ambulance got here. It was too late. That was the end of our life as we know it. It went from Camelot to just a nightmare.”

The Murphrees buried their son without any answers. How could an argument drive their son to kill himself?

After Brandon’s funeral, Steve cleaned out his son’s car. He found packets and receipts for Spice. You could buy it at gas stations at the time.

The teen’s friends told the Murphrees their son smoked it the morning of his death.


Mike Reese with the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board helped the Murphrees connect the dots.

“Something caused it, and it was it wasn’t an action of his own. Something else caused him to do something that in a million years he would have never done,” said Reese.

The Murphrees told Reese about their son complaining about heart problems and sleepless nights. They even took him to a cardiologist twice.

They said the doctors never found anything wrong.

In retrospect, the parents realized their son’s behavior was far from normal.

“All of sudden he got… come in real short. Never got verbally mean. But he was very irritable, cut me off. ‘Gotta go.’ That was the biggest thing.”

Reese told the parents those were all side effects of Spice.

“The agitation, the withdrawal, rapid heartbeat, the night sweats. It was like checking a list off.”

“It was like a light came on and they realized that it was probably related to the use,” Reese said.


Spice is made up of green leaves. It’s sprayed with a solution of manmade chemicals created by underground chemists.

Most of the chemicals have never been tested on humans.

In a Skype interview, a Drug Enforcement Administration spokesperson said China is the number one exporter of the lethal drug. You never really know what is insude the packets or how your body will react.

The DEA said it’s like playing Russian Roulette.


Nick Reeves said he bought Spice back when it was legal. He said he thought he was about to have some fun with a friend.

“One time, one hit, that’s it. He took the first hit,” Reeves said.

But it was anything but fun.

“When I took my hit I walked to the living room and I found him (his friend) on the ground seizing. I had blood coming my ears and vomiting,” he said.

Before Reeves woke up in a hospital bed, he had what he calls the scariest moment of his life.

“You know that there is something there, and in my mind it was the devil pulling me away. It was basically a fight for my life. I saw him. He was physically there in front of me, trying to take me. Every time I say that it sounds ridiculous, but in my mind, it physically happened,” Reeves said.

Call it a hallucination, a vision or the real thing. Whatever Reeves went through that night took him to a dark place.

“It could have been me that died. My parents could have been the ones that lost. But they weren’t. I was very lucky,” he said.

Now he tells kids Spice isn’t worth it.

“If it was me, and Brandon lived, he would be in my shoes. He can’t speak, but I still have a voice. It’s kind of my obligation to,” he said.


The law banning synthetic drugs in Alabama is name after two teens – one of them Brandon Murphree.

However, the law – and Murphree’s death – is not stopping people from selling it.

Rassie Smith is the commander of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office narcotics unit.

“There is a culture out there of people that have bought businesses here. And at some point, maybe before it was outlawed they sold Spice. And they are continuing to do it. They are just doing underground and under the counter,” Smith said.

FOX10 News rode along with Smith during a recent Spice arrest to see who authorities suspect is selling the drug.

“It’s not just the stereotypical crack dealer that might live in an impoverished part of town. There are people that live nice, that look like nice people, that look like educated people, but somehow or another they’ve lost their way on their moral compass and all of sudden it’s okay to destroy other people so you can make money,” he said.

Deputies believe a couple stopped during the arrest was selling Spice. Deputies said they received a tip that the family was selling it at two convenience stores in Mobile County.

Guns were seized and another family member was also arrested.

Reese, with the ABC Board, said the ban against synthetic drugs in Alabama has helped. He said, however, chemists are one step ahead of the law.

“They change one compound and it makes it a total different substance under the law,” he pointed out.

Drug Enforcement Administration spokesperson Rusty Payne said although the law is helpful, it’s not enough.

“We can’t legislate our way out of this problem with bills from Congress; we can’t enforce our way out of this with a whole bunch of arrests,” he said.

He said people need to understand the risk. It’s something the Murphrees wished their son would have known.

“We go from crying in here, to just jumping off in the car and riding down the road just bawling. Or I hear her bawling. I hope no one ever has to go through the nightmare of finding their wife laying on the floor bawling,” said Steve.

It’s also a risk Nick Reeves now understands.

“It’s a horrible thing that your putting inside your body, and I didn’t know that. I wish I had someone tell me. I wish I had someone say, ‘You don’t need to do this. Like, you really don’t,'” he said.

If you think your family is invincible – consider the Murphrees.

“Please don’t say, ‘Not my kid, my kid won’t do that.’ Because we said that.”


So, how can you protect your family from the drug?

On top of being aware of the unpredictable dangers, the DEA recommends some things you can do. Click here to get that information.

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