Pubdate: Thu, 16 Aug 2001
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2001 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Ian Ith


They come disguised as ordinary brown cigarettes, or as sloppy marijuana 
joints stained brown from their plunge into noxious liquid meant for 
preserving human bodies for burial.

Doctors and cops say users smoke "Sherms" because they're a cheap trip, an 
accessible method of feeling omniscient, omnipowerful or just plain removed 
from reality.

They also say smoking Sherms can turn a person violent and paranoid. 
Seattle police say 20-year-old Devon Jackson was on a Sherm binge before he 
killed a man and a toddler in South Seattle on Monday and beat a 6-year-old 
girl with his pistol. Jackson was shot and mortally wounded by police.

Doctors disagree on whether Sherms are a unique form of formaldehyde- 
soaked smokes, or simply a newer name for a decades-old way to take PCP 
(phencyclidine hydrochloride). Either way, this week's deadly rampage by an 
armed, Sherm-smoking man is far from the first, and highlights an ongoing 
problem with the drug.

"Why anyone would want to take that drug, I don't know, because it doesn't 
really make you high, it gives you a really bum trip," said Lawrence 
Halpern, an associate professor of pharmacology at the University of 

"A lot of people say they think it's fun. It's not fun. It makes people do 
things they regret later, when they're being put to death or locked up in 
jail for life."

Both the Seattle police chief and friends of Jackson agreed he had been 
smoking Sherms nonstop for days before he fatally shot his friend, 
20-year-old Dante Coleman, then pistol-whipped 2-year-old Tre Vaugn Ford 
Spruel and 6-year-old Samunique Wilson at a Rainier Beach triplex. Tre 
Vaugn died. Samunique was still in serious condition at Harborview Medical 
Center yesterday.

Police said they had no choice but to shoot Jackson after he fled the 
apartment with his pistol in his hand and refused to surrender.

Although no toxicology tests have yet been returned on Jackson's blood, 
police and doctors say his behavior is consistent with typical Sherm reactions.

"The worst-case scenario is you go bonkers and you kill people, and then 
the cops get you," Halpern said.

The term "Sherm" comes from a brand of cigarettes, Nat Sherman, which have 
brown paper that can disguise the fact that cigarettes have been dipped. In 
other parts of the country, names for the laced cigarettes vary. They are 
also called "wetstick" or "smoking wet," though users have to allow the 
cigarettes to dry before lighting up.

Users have been dipping cigarettes and marijuana into PCP solutions for 
decades, Halpern said.

Within the past 10 years or so, he said, users discovered that 
formaldehyde, commonly found in embalming fluid, was good for dissolving 
PCP for dipping.

And cops soon started learning the term "Sherm" in connection with violence.

In 1994 in Tacoma, police tied a string of slayings to Sherm smoking, 
including an execution-style triple murder by a man who police said was 
paranoid from days of smoking Sherms. Then in 1997, a Tacoma man, Albert 
Spears, shot and killed an elderly man on a bus, then later testified that 
he'd been smoking Sherms and thought rap-music lyrics ordered him to kill 

Seattle police say they haven't seen an increase in Sherm use lately, 
though they know the drug is out on the street and that popular rap 
recordings sometimes mention Sherms in the lyrics.

"We run into it very infrequently," said Capt. Jim Pryor, who heads the 
Police Department's narcotics squad. "Our common understanding is that 
`Sherms' and `embalming fluid' are just slang terms for PCP, and it carries 
all the side effects of PCP."

But Dr. Michael Copass, director of emergency services at Harborview 
Medical Center, said the hospital treats someone for Sherm-related problems 
every three days or so. And often, he said, users aren't getting high from 
PCP but simply from the mix of chemicals in embalming fluid. And 
regardless, the effects are relatively the same. People take the drug for a 
"Superman" effect, he said, but often end up having extreme trouble 
breathing or launch into incapacitating paranoia.

So the debate over whether Sherms have to contain PCP to be dangerous isn't 
so much the issue, Copass said.

"It's a lethal drug,' he said. "It's a drug that shortens your life and 
makes you do things you'd be horribly ashamed of if you were cognizant of it."
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