FACT CHECK:   Was a California teen named Connor Reid Eckhardt determined to have died after smoking a synthetic marijuana compound known as “spice” or K2?

Claim:   A California teen named Connor Reid Eckhardt was determined to have died after smoking a synthetic marijuana compound known as “spice” or K2.

   MIXTURE

Example:     [Collected via e-mail and Facebook, August 2015]

Just received a video from a friend. Her friend’s son has died from an overdose of a drugs shipped from China. That young man is Conor Reid Eckhardt. Checking to see if this legitimate.

THIS IS SO IMPORTANT TO SHARE….THIS IS NOT A MOVIE!! OUR 19 YEAR OLD SON CONNOR IS NOT WAKING UP FROM THE SINGLE HIT OF "SPICE, K2," HE TOOK. It has over 600 names. The credits are not going to roll. He is not going surfing this morning. He is GETTING "THAT HAIR CUT" we never wanted to give before he goes into surgery to donate 4 of his organs to SAVE FOUR OTHER LIVES. Connor died. Our son, our only son died from a legal high purchased at the corner market. No drugs or alcohol in his system. Most, not all legal highs are made in CHINA and sold to our youth. Millions are being affected by these legal highs. Please help us get the attention of presidential candidates. We must get this stopped. An entire generation of children and youth are at risk. Please get educated. The Connor Project Foundation is about Education, Awareness, and Prevention. Doit4connor. Do it for your kids and for your communities.

Posted by Connor Reid Eckhardt on Sunday, August 16, 2015

Origins:    On 16 August 2015 the Facebook page “Connor Reid Eckhardt” published the status and video embedded above, which was subsequently shared hundreds of thousands of times in one week alone.

The basic context of the clip is not in dispute. In July 2014, 19-year-old Connor Reid Eckhardt slipped into a coma and was declared brain dead after smoking a synthetic form of marijuana known as “spice” or K2. Reid’s father spoke to Los Angeles television station KTLA about Connor’s death in August 2014:

On July 11, Connor Eckhardt inhaled one hit of dried herbs that had been sprayed with chemicals to cause a pot-like high, his parents said.

“In a moment of peer pressure, he gave into that, thinking that was OK, it was somehow safe, and one hit later, he goes to sleep and never wakes up,” Connor’s father, Devin Eckhardt, said.

On 9 August 2014, the Los Angeles Times published a lengthy profile of a grieving vigil held by the Eckhardt family in the somber hours before Connor’s organs were harvested for donation. In that piece, the paper reported that neither spice (nor any other known drug compounds) had been found in Eckhardt’s system:

At the hospital, tests did not detect spice in Connor’s system. The ever-changing components make it difficult for scientists to develop a standard way to trace it. But the hospital found no sign of other drugs. And he had the small, square packet of spice still in his pocket.

As the above excerpt noted, spice’s uncertain (and variable) composition makes it nearly impossible to pinpoint as a culprit in incidents like the one that led to Eckhardt’s death. The wide-ranging nature of synthetic cannabinoids in circulation under the name “spice” was described in an 18 August 2015 article:

When using Spice, “people sometimes develop moderate to severe adverse health consequences, including vomiting, muscle spasms, seizures, hallucinations, confusion, and suicidal thoughts. In some cases, Spice has been linked to heart attacks and deaths,” state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said.

“At this point, the bulk of the medical transports have involved young adults; however, there have been many transports involving adolescents,” McLaughlin said. “Parents should warn their children about the dangers of using Spice and strongly instruct them to stay away from it.”

Spice is typically made by spraying psychotropic compounds onto plant materials. It’s a cheap high that is difficult to regulate because manufacturers often switch ingredients as soon as a chemical compound is made illegal.

Although Eckhardt’s adoptive father Devin suggested “peer pressure” was responsible for Connor’s possible experimentation with spice, the Los Angeles Times also reported that the teen had previously battled an addiction to heroin:

By 18 he started looking for his birth parents, and plunged head-first into drugs.

Last year, Connor went to a rehab program in Palm Springs to get off heroin. He had been sober since, his parents said.

Mindy Hunt, 24, who met Connor in the program, recalled long hours they spent discussing the struggle to stay clean. She had smoked spice once; it made her heart beat so fast that she couldn’t stand up.

Connor Reid Eckhardt died in July 2014, and his parents strongly believed the synthetic cannabinoid spice directly caused his death. But spice (or K2) is a substance about which little is known, and inconsistencies from batch to batch further obfuscate specific dangers associated with the substance. Since spice is hard to detect on any standard toxicology panel, its use may very well go unnoticed as a contributing factor in serious adverse incidents.

Eckhardt’s official cause of death (if any was determined) was not disclosed to the media, but his sudden death was not attributable to other common factors (such as detectable drug use or alcohol intoxication), and the teen was still carrying an envelope of spice when he was hospitalized.

Last updated:      20 August 2015

Originally published:    20 August 2015