The dangerous drug that 60 per cent of parents don't know about.







If you knew there was a drug out there that was 1000 times stronger than marijuana, would you be concerned? That your teenager might find it easy to obtain. That it was marketed as “safe legal high”. But that, in reality, it can cause psychosis, heart attacks, liver damage, cardiovascular problems and – just recently – the death of a much-loved 19-year old man.

If you knew this drug was around, would you talk to your kids about it? Well, of course you would, but the scary thing is that more than 60% of parents haven’t heard of this drug – and more than 40% of those who have, think it’s safe.

Synthetic cannabis is making headlines around the world after the death of 19-year old Connor Eckhardt, who fell into a coma and died after smoking one hit of a brand called “Spice”. Mamamia reported on the tragic circumstances surrounding his death.

“Connor did not want to die,” his mother said. “Connor very much wanted to live. He had everything to live for.”

Connor’s family have embarked on a crusade to raise awareness of the dangers of synthetic cannabis.

I spoke to Professor Jan Copeland, the Director of the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre at UNSW to help answer some questions around this drug.

As the mother of three kids, the first thing she told me sent a jolt though me. Teenagers as young as 13 and 14 are smoking synthetic cannabis – and frighteningly, they think it is safe.

Connor and his mum.

What is synthetic cannabis?

Professor Copeland told me that this stuff is not actually anything to do with what you know as marijuana – the only thing they have in common is that they stimulate the same part of the brain. She says it was never designed for human consumption.

“There are hundreds of these chemicals now, there is at least one coming out every week in Australia.”

What does it look like?

According to Professor Copeland, they will look like colourful foil packages with branding such as room freshener or incense on it. She says it will smell like mild incense. Inside they it have a herbal material with flowers or other bits of colouring in it. It will often be marked “not for human use” or as “research chemicals.”

Synthetic cannabis comes under many brand names such as “Spice”, “Kronic” “ Buzz” “Caution” “K2”. She says it is “so important parents talk to kids so that they are aware if they come across drugs marketed as room fresheners, incense or not for human use then they know they are in fact very risky drugs.”

“Spice” synthetic cannibis (via Wikipedia)

What is in it?

That’s the problem. Of all drugs, this is the one that experts have trouble with – they have no idea what is in it.

Professor Copeland says that the manufacturers spray chemicals on any herbal material they can find.
“The reason it is so unpredictable and potent is because we not know what chemical is in that particular package. When they spray, it some parts of it get a big dose and other parts of it get very little chemicals. So even two kids sharing the same packet get a very different experience.”

How are teenagers getting it?

Mainly the same way they get other illicit substances, but there are shops that still sell this stuff under the counter as potpourri or incense.


In 2011, the Government started cracking down on it and there is now a catchall legislation that encompasses anything that mimics the effect of cannabis. This means that police can seize it if they have a reasonable suspicion about it. Professor Copeland says it is not supposed to be sold over the counter anymore, but it is.

What harm can it do?

A lot. A few weeks ago two American parents made one of the most heartbreaking statements you could ever read. “This is our son, Connor Reid Eckhardt,” said Veronica Eckhard. “He made the deadly choice to use a product called K2, or spice, and Connor is completely brain-dead… This is not a game, it is totally real, please help us fight his fight.” Connor had smoked “Spice” with a friend and fell into a coma.

Professor Copeland said that these products can lead to psychosis, heart failure, kidney damage and tragically, death.

What should parents do?

Talk to their kids about it. “From a survey we did recently 66% of parents were unaware of what synthetic cannabis was and 40% believed it was actually safer than herbal cannabis.” Professor Copeland said parents are not confident about what to say about it so they don’t initiate conversations around that drug group. She says to try asking: have you heard of it? Do your friends talk about it?

Overall she says, “Parents should say it is not safe, it is not legal and it is not cannabis.”

For more information on synthetic cannabis, see the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre – visit here.