The parents of a Northern California teen who died from smoking synthetic marijuana last year have filed a lawsuit against the Santa Ana smoke shop where he bought it.
Connor Eckhardt, 19, suffered brain damage and died at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach on July 16 after smoking synthetic pot, known as “spice,” with a friend. Also called K2, spice is a synthetic alternative to marijuana that often is diluted with water, sprayed onto herbs and smoked like marijuana.
In their wrongful death lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court last week, Devin and Veronica Eckhardt claim that Hickory Smoke Shop sold their son a brand of spice called “Mr. Marley” that was laced with a dangerous psychoactive drug known to cause vomiting, seizures, coma and death.
The chemical, named AB-CHMINACA, is a stronger derivative of another chemical, AB-FUBINACA, that was banned last February. The Drug Enforcement Administration designated AB-CHMINACA as an illegal controlled substance in December, six months after Connor’s death, according to the suit.
The lawsuit says Hickory Smoke Shop falsely marketed the product as “safe,” “natural,” and “legal,” and failed to adequately warn customers of the drug’s danger. The owner of Hickory Smoke Shop could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit also names the drug and alcohol rehab center in San Clemente where the teen was being treated for substance abuse. The suit contends that Sanctuary House Recovery failed to provide adequate supervision and allowed the teen to leave the premises.
The family’s attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Spice looks like marijuana, but its side effects are more severe and can include hallucinations, aggressive behavior, psychosis, heart attack or death, experts say. Some strains are illegal, but underground chemists in China and India are making new strains quicker than the DEA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration can ban them, officials said.
“The people who are making this stuff, they’re chemists and they’re very familiar with the Controlled Substances Act. All they do is check the federal register to see what’s illegal,” according to Vijay Rathi, a special agent with the DEA told the Register. “It’s completely frustrating.”
After their son’s death, the Eckhardts, who live in Roseville near Sacramento, launched a national awareness campaign on the dangers of spice. Their website, thedirtiestkeptsecret.org, has information and updates on the drug’s devastating effects.
“We were not aware of this drug prior to our son’s death, but since then have come to understand the pervasive and devastating impacts of this readily available, toxic synthetic drug, and countless more like it, in the U.S. and in every corner of world,” the family said on the website.
This month, Cholula’s Bakery in Santa Ana made national headlines when synthetic pot found its way into the holiday sweet bread, sickening more than 40 people. Investigators are still trying to figure out how the drug got into the bread.