This post is a study in the ultra-sketchy, otherwise known as “IZMS”. Back in July, my boyfriend, my cousin (who was visiting from England at the time), and I dropped by Pride briefly. Same old same old: a collection of the…eclectic (ie. the drunk, stoned, naked, flamboyant, and weird). Nick, being the straight, rather sheltered English boy that he is, was duly horrified by such “non-institutionlized” and “unsupervised” street celebration, and extremely conscious of the fact that he was surrounded by (naked) gay men without the security of a girl to hold onto. Having lived in Toronto for a few years and being somewhat more immune to such outrageously flamboyant displays, my boyfriend, S, had earlier that day walked down Church Street (perhaps somewhat ironically the famously gay neighbourhood of Toronto) and been handed this package:
by a guy carrying a bag of them, one of a few on the Church strip as it turned out. He approached my boyfriend and asked him if he smoked weed, handing him the package, telling him that it was “a legalized form of marijuana” and that it was available over the counter at any convenience store.
After all three of us returned from our stroll down Church that evening, my boyfriend pulled out the package and proposed that we give it a try. Now, S knows his way around the bong. Nick volunteered that he had tried many similar products back home, all with little or no effect. The three of us split it, and after about two drags each we all started feeling the effects. The rest of the night I can only remember vaguely for its nightmarish quality. S, who does not green out, began throwing up repeatedly. Nick begged us to take him to a hospital, telling us that he thought he was dying. Barely able to lift my head off the pillow or stretch my arm out the two feet necessary to reach the water bottle, I tried to keep him talking, fighting through a fog to even form words that seemed to come from someone, somewhere else. I remember sensations of twitching, extreme thirst, and an inability to interact with my environment or anyone around me. Eventually I passed out, while S kept Nick talking in an effort to calm him. I distinctly remember thinking that there was a possibility I might not wake up. The next morning all three of us looked at each other like people who’ve just survived a bombing, grateful to still be alive.
The next week, S did some investigation through the grapevine. Apparently we weren’t the only ones with the same story. These neatly packaged bombshells had been given out like candy at Pride, as an experiment in both product testing and guerrilla marketing. Two people had died; one from a heart attack and one from drowning in his own vomit. This company had targeted the Pride crowd as guinea pigs for their product. The “legalized version of weed” came from restructuring THC molecules with something called “cannabanoids”.
There is a glaring lack of information on the website, http://theizms.com/index.php, and calls made to the phone number listed on the package, which led straight to a voicemail, went unreturned (not to mention that the 647 area code indicates that this company’s telephone number is actually a cell phone). It is also remarkable that the product handed out to my boyfriend at Pride is not listed on the “Products” section of the website. In fact, this company seems to sell only one product:
that is advertised as “herbal incense” “not for human consumption” on the back of the package:
On the original package, The IZMS advertises its product as the following, while maintaining that “it is not quite the same as illegal weed” (how it is “not quite the same” is never explained- other than that it is ”a blend of colourful herbs laced with a unique formula of hard-hitting cannabanoids”):
“What is the IZMS? Put simply, The IZMS is the legal version of weed
In reality it is not quite the same as illegal weed:
- it does not burn you out heavily
- it will not land you in jail
- you can carry or smoke it nearly anywhere
- it’s stronger and you get more bang for your buck”
Breaking this down, the package makes two contradictory claims in this section. It says the product “does not burn you out heavily”, but then later claims that “it’s stronger and you get more bang for your buck”. Further research reveals that “cannabanoids” are “a group of terpenophenolic compounds present in Cannabis (”Cannabis sativa”) and occur naturally in the nervous and immune systems of animals. The broader definition of cannabinoids refers to a group of substances that are structurally related to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)”.
Further down, it states:
“Why the IZMS is better than other brands like k2, spice, etc.
- The IZMS is created by Canadians for Canadians
- The IZMS is designed to be stronger than those weak ass American brands
- The IZMS is far better value. We give you more product per pack at a cheaper price and the product is much stronger. Because as Canadians we know you like your strong weed and you love a good deal”
So, it’s strong then? So strong it’s lethal, apparently. Admittedly, one shouldn’t just smoke anything handed to you by someone on the street. That was definitely our bad. But the pretty, pretty packaging of The IZMS (making it look much like candy, in fact) lends it some measure of institutionalized credibility, masking something much more sinister. Google searches reveal that there is little to no discussion out there about these things. Considering a minority demographic of the population was targeted for test marketing, that’s not too surprising. However, it’s extremely unsettling to consider the larger implications of this: that sections of the population (especially one like the gay community, which already contends with so much discrimination) can be guerrilla targeted like this to test and market a product, which is clearly unsafe, and apparently (according to the company), “unfit for human consumption”. That didn’t seem to concern them at Pride when they were handing these things out, literally, like candy. Even more disturbing: people are unaware, or not vocalizing, that they were unwittingly exploited. Pride is supposed to be a celebration for the gay community, but in this case it was just the opposite: a mechanism for corporate exploitation of a minority demographic.
NOTE: (Added January 8, 2013)
There has been an considerable amount of response to this post, which I think is indicative of the seriousness of this situation. I would like to think that in the time since this was published, more attention has been given to this issue, but considering that I found this package on the street recently, which would indicate that there’s a new “flavour” of this product, I can only conclude that this product is becoming more widespread:
***UPDATE: March 16, 2013
I have recently been informed by a reader that the Izms have now been identified as illegal and raids have been conducted on the company and stores distributing the product. So in response to all the below comments, there is no longer any shred of doubt as to whether this product is acceptable for mainstream consumer use.