A packet of legal, store-bought herbs was supposed to help a young performer from Montgomery County free himself from the chains of addiction.
But his family says that it was this so-called “synthetic marijuana” that contributed to his death.
On July 29, 2013, Charlie Eichler, 22, of Silver Spring, took his own life, according to his family. His family says it hopes to spare others from being a casualty of addiction.
The Eichler family wa in Rockville Monday to help lawmakers spread the word about a new Maryland law that criminalizes the possession of the chemical-laced herbs that Charlie Eichler used.
A ban on the substance takes effect Tuesday.
"We want to save lives,” said Sandy Eichler, Charlie’s mom. “This is it.”
Under the new law, possessing what is referred to as synthetic cannabinoids—nicknamed “synthetic marijuana,” “spice” and “K-2”—could result in a four-year prison sentence; people who distribute it face up to 20 years behind bars, according to the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic marijuana is made from dried, shredded plant material with added chemicals to give it mind-altering effects. Some research suggests that synthetic marijuana produces a more powerful—and dangerous—high than the THC in marijuana.
The substance is the second to marijuana as the drug of choice among high school seniors, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Synthetic cannabinoids were responsible for 8,557 emergency room visits in 2010, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
According to his parents, Charlie Eichler started using synthetic marijuana to help him deal with the symptoms of methadone withdrawal. He was undergoing methadone therapy as treatment for a prior heroin addiction.
“The more he used, the worse the effects got,” said his father, Tony Eichler.
His condition declined over the course of a few months.
Charlie Eichler’s brother, Steven, 16, said he used to smoke synthetic marijuana with his brother. He said at first it was “fun.” Then came the withdrawals and the powerful hallucinations, he said.
“Shakes, nonstop throwing up—you can't stop throwing up until you're throwing up blood,” Steven Eichler said. “It's worse than heroin withdrawal. The dreams are so realistic that when you wake up you don't know how to discern what's reality and what's not.”
Eichler had to go to the hospital for his synthetic marijuana use. A heart monitor was tucked inside his gray suit on Monday.
He also wears a tattoo on his forearm bearing the somber date his brother died.
“You can say, ‘Don't do it.’” Eichler said. “That's one way of doing it, but you can also show people what happens in the long run.”