Connor Eckhardt's life cut short by synthetic cannabis

Connor Eckhardt lying brain dead in a hospital bed following his experimentation with synthetic cannabis.
Connor Eckhardt lying brain dead in a hospital bed following his experimentation with synthetic cannabis.

As 19-year-old Connor Eckhardt lay brain dead in a hospital bed after one hit of synthetic pot, his mum made a desperate plea to the world.

"We want people to know how dangerous this is, this is not a game, this is totally real," Veronica Eckhardt said,

"Please help us fight this fight."

Her video hit social media and her story was picked up by news stations across the world.

Mrs Eckhardt continues each day to share on Facebook the emotional scenes from Connor's last hours on life support to alert young people and their parents to the fact that synthetic cannabis - legal in NSW until 12 months ago - is deadly.

The drugs come in fun, harmless-looking packets and flavours that smell good. They find their way into the hands of teenagers looking for a cheap, "undetectable" high.

Police sources say they can still be easily accessed on the internet, bought at parties and even "under the counter" from tobacconists.

NSW Police and health authorities concede stamping out the wide range of synthetic cannabis products flooding the market is a challenge. Names, packaging and chemical compositions are constantly changing.

Commander of the NSW Drug Squad Tony Cooke said the NSW government announced last year tough new legislation outlawing synthetic drugs.

"These laws were introduced due to the deaths, serious injuries and psychotic episodes synthetic drugs have induced in Australian users," Detective Superintendent Cooke said.

"As with all illegal drugs, synthetic drugs are produced to generate a profit for manufacturers and dealers. Numerous incidents have clearly demonstrated that customer safety is not a priority for synthetic drug producers.

"Quite simply, there's little to no quality control in the production of synthetic drugs. Anyone who takes them is putting their health, well-being and, ultimately, their life at risk."

One of the Illawarra's leading drug rehabilitation services says synthetic cannabis is popular.

"We see a bit of it; most of the guys who use it are cannabis smokers because it does the same thing and is easy to access and is more affordable," said Watershed Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Centre chief executive Will Temple.

"Initially it was popular because it was hard to detect but now some of the workplaces are starting to pick it up," he said.

"You used to be able to just go down to your local tobacconist and buy it. That's changed but it's certainly still around."

Mr Temple said the withdrawal was a lot worse than for someone using cannabis.

"It's harder, the psychological, behavioural aspects, it just really messes with their head.

"It can be more along the lines of what 'ice' does. It's just a synthetic, chemical base - that's what it is."

Mr Temple said it was important to educate parents and young people that these products, which haven't even been tested on animals, let alone humans, are not safe.

"We are seeing similar things with this like the 'ice' epidemic. It's not by any stretch of the imagination an epidemic, but we know it's there and younger kids are using it.

"We need to educate. This is chemicals, this stuff can do some real damage."

Professor Jan Copeland, Director of the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre and the mother of a teenager, says synthetics are often being left out of family discussions about drugs.

"Parents may simply overlook the need to raise the important topic of synthetic cannabis as it may not be on their radar," she said.

"They may not feel they are able to talk with their children about the drug because they don't know enough about these products and the associated harms themselves.

"I would encourage all parents to arm themselves with knowledge about these products and the potential dangers associated with use, before starting an open and frank conversation with their children."

While the law is still evolving to keep up with the ever-changing synthetic drug market, Prof Copeland says it is an important that parents know the facts.

"Let [your children] know that it is OK to ask questions, because these discussions better equip them to make the right decisions if they come across these substances in their own social set."

For the Eckhardt family, knowing their story is spreading around the world is comforting.

A Facebook page set up as a tribute to Connor has become a global phenomenon.

People who have smoked spice, and other synthetic weed, are pledging to stop. And parents are posting their gratitude for opening their eyes since Connor's death six weeks ago.

"His story is not over," Mrs Eckhardt said.

"He's not physically with me ... oh gosh as a mum I can't even explain what it's like to lose your son, your child, your daughter," she said.

"But to know that this is not finished, this is not over, gives our family hope."


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