CLEARWATER — For the first time in Tampa Bay, a death has been linked to fake pot.
Logan Kushner, 19, died Jan. 8 when he slipped and fell in a shallow creek, drowning as he lay unconscious in water that would have been below his knees. The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office recently confirmed that Kushner drowned.
But in the autopsy report, the medical examiner also listed another factor that may have contributed to his death: synthetic marijuana.
"The effects of this type of substance, we think, probably played a role in his death," said Bill Pellan, director of investigations. "A 19-year-old, otherwise-healthy young man fell in a body of water that he shouldn't have drowned in — and he drowned."
The synthetic drug, which mimics the effects of marijuana but can be more potent, has not been linked to any previous death investigations in Hillsborough, Pasco or Pinellas county.
Kushner died in the creek at Clearwater's Kapok Park, found by friends who had left him there earlier but grew concerned when he never returned home. According to police, friends said Kushner acted "strangely" at the park and jumped into the creek. They got him to leave the water, but could not get him to leave the park with them.
Just before his death, police said, Kushner had smoked Jazz, an herbal incense that contains synthetic cannabinoids and was widely available for purchase at area convenience stores and gas stations. The only other thing found in Kushner's system was caffeine, according to the report. The autopsy said no alcohol or any other kind of drug was discovered by lab tests.
Pellan said his office decided to list "synthetic cannabinoids intoxication" as a contributing cause of death because of the unusual circumstances.
Kushner drowned in 14 inches of water, police said. The Medical Examiner's Office believes that if he hadn't been impaired, he likely would have taken different actions, or made different decisions, to avoid drowning.
If the lab tests had found alcohol in Kushner's system, Pellan said, the medical examiner would have listed that as a contributing factor. But instead they found synthetic marijuana — a substance that is becoming more and more of a problem for law enforcement.
Last month, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law banning more than 100 synthetic drugs. But enforcing the law is tough.
The products must be tested for the banned ingredients by a lab before police can take action. And every time chemicals are banned, manufacturers find more that aren't. Meanwhile, people keep buying these products despite warnings that they are not for human consumption. Jazz was legal to buy when Kushner died. The synthetic cannabinoids found in his blood were AM-2201 and JWH 018, according to the autopsy report.
Both substances have since been banned by the new state law.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.