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Youth Who Smoked Potpourri Product: ‘I Thought I Was Going To Die’

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An incense product that some young people are inhaling can have serious effects, officials warn. (CBS)

An incense product that some young people are inhaling can have serious effects, officials warn. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Some call it an epidemic: the number of teenagers smoking products that are legal to buy but can have lethal consequences. 

A local teenager says it terrified him when he tried it and it killed his good friend. CBS 2’s Dave Savini investigates the exploding industry and some who are behind it.

“It was the worst experience of my life,” says the young man, who does not want to be identified.

He is talking about a legal product he and other teenagers have bought and smoked.  The substance can cause terrifying hallucinations, panic attacks and rapid heartbeat.

He describes it this way: “It’s smoking poison, and I want to get it off the market.”

His good friend Max Dobner died after smoking the same product, and that is why he is now warning others. 

The product is called IAroma. Its packaging says it is potpourri, but it is sold by the gram in smoke shops at the mall, in gas stations and online.

“I call it poison sprayed on leaves,” says Karen Dobner, Max Dobner’s mother.

She says her son suffered a severe panic attack, got behind the wheel of a car and speeded out of control, crashing right into a house where he died.

The 2 Investigators have uncovered more about IAroma. There are Internet sites selling the product, including a Louisiana company called Domestic Oddities, which markets Iaroma along with other brands.

The company is run by Eric Fontenelle, who is only 18. In a YouTube video, he claims his potpourri is euphoric and cause marijuana-like effects.

Fontenelle is part of a billion-dollar, unregulated industry.  He claims he does not tell people to smoke his product, but in his video he says, “What you do with it is your own business.”

He also says Max Dobner must have smoked a copycat version of his product.  Fontenelle says his product was not sold in Illinois and the product he now sells is free of anything harmful. He warns there are hundreds of copycat operations selling these products and have unknown ingredients.

In fact, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say when law enforcement tests and bans one of these types of products or synthetic form of marijuana, new ones show up on the market overnight.

“It’s a chemical compound, so they keep changing the chemicals trying to stay one step ahead of us,” says David Murphy from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The young man CBS 2 interviewed says he is still affected by the IAroma he smoked.

“I had seizures, black outs,” he says. “I thought I was going to die.”

The teen says more than 70 percent of his friends have tried it, mainly because the packaging says it is legal.

Shawn Collins, The Dobner family’s attorney, says action needs to be taken to protect kids.

“You can’t put a poison on American shelves and allow it to hurt people and kill people and escape legal accountability,” Collins says.

Karen Dobner and Max’s friends want to get laws passed to ban all of these types of products.

On Monday, some results came in from Max Dobner’s autopsy.  The chemical jwh210 was found in Max Dobner’s system and in the IAroma product he smoked.

That substance is temporarily banned in Kansas while it is being studied.  Chemicals in the same family are banned in the Illinois, but not this particular one.

Karen Dobner is starting a foundation. Click here to learn more.

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