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Did "Herbal Incense" Kill Young Man?

Last September, 26-year-old Aaron Stinson sat around a friend's apartment in upstate New York drinking some beer and smoking Relaxinol, a brand of so-called "herbal incense." Manufacturers would usually stamp warning labels on these products to indicate that they were "not for human consumption," but users knew that smoking them resulted in a high because the goods were soaked with synthetic cannabinoids — man-made chemicals designed to mimic the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana.

Stinson, with a head of red hair, texted back and forth with his cousin and went off to bed around 1 a.m.

The next morning, friends found Stinson's cold, pale corpse. The first autopsy turned up only caffeine and a small amount of alcohol — 0.06 percent, not even enough to be legally intoxicated under New York law. Then investigators learned that Stinson had been smoking Relaxinol. The next round of toxicology tests showed two synthetic cannabinoids in his blood: JWH-122 and JWH-210.

Listed as the cause of death on Stinson's autopsy report: acute intoxication due to the combined effects of ethanol and Relaxinol.

Until recently, Relaxinol was created legally in warehouses across Palm Beach and sold under the brand name Mr. Nice Guy. Then the feds cracked down on the gray-market substances and stormed Mr. Nice Guy's production site, arresting the company's proprietors.

Court records suggest that Relaxinol was a particularly potent flavor: A Mr. Nice Guy distributor was recorded telling an informant that Relaxinol was so strong, it would cause hallucinations.

Last Monday, John Shealy and Dylan Harrison — founders of Mr. Nice Guy — were scheduled to be arraigned in federal court on charges of unlawful distribution of controlled substance analogs, creating a substance with risk of harm to human life while manufacturing a controlled substance analog, and misbranding drugs with intent to defraud and mislead. However, Shealy and Harrison managed to postpone their arraignment until the end of October.

Deirdre Canaday, Stinson's mother, says it's ridiculous the men weren't hit with tougher charges. "I'd love to see them get charged with criminally negligent homicide," she says. "They knew exactly what they were making the product for, they knew what the vendors were selling it to kids for, and they knew it was a toxic substance."

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Chris Sweeney

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