Don’t Call it Synthetic Marijuana: Conner Reid Eckhardt, Addiction and Herbal Incense

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Synthetic drugs can be kind of scary, and this is coming from someone who likes to be frightened and pushed out of her comfort zone. Herbal incense is often called synthetic marijuana, but the name is misleading. It makes people think that herbal incense has a similar effect to natural-state cannabis, when in fact it is potent and can be quite dangerous, unlike cannabis. The recent news coverage of the death of Conner Reid Eckhardt helps to illustrate how cannabis prohibition has created a dangerous, sometimes deadly product to replace Schedule I marijuana.

By all accounts, Conner Reid Eckhardt had had an uphill struggle for some time, but he was fighting with all he had to better himself. The 19-year old from California had previously struggled with serious drug addictions, including heroin. His family and loved ones were doing all they could to support his fight to get clean. It seemed to many of them that Conner was winning the fight of his life against heroin.

Yet, ironically, it was a drug many consider harmless that ended his life. Conner reportedly collapsed after a single hit on a joint comprised of an un-named brand of herbal incense. He slipped into unconsciousness instead of simply getting a little buzzed. And he never woke up again. His family had to watch for weeks as his body struggled to support itself. Eventually, they had to make the heart-wrenching decision to take him off of life support, allowing his body to pass and his final battle to end. Conner, who was only 19 years old, died on July 19th, 2014.

What would have happened if the joint Conner got passed had contained only cannabis, instead of some unregulated herbal incense, which is dried plant leaf coated in a synthetic cannabinoid compound?

He would likely have felt relief from the constant struggle that is addiction, even when someone’s clean. He would have shared a laugh with his buddies, coughed, and passed it along. It might have helped him stay away from the harder stuff.  Maybe, if his family or a substance abuse counselor found out, they might think he wasn’t taking his recovery seriously. That would be a real risk; he loved his family and wanted to do right by them. But perhaps, if the social stigma attached to cannabis was lessened, he would have felt comfortable accepting that little puff of relief and social camaraderie.

Instead, he and his friends were so concerned with stigma that they chose to smoke something not as readily found in drug tests (without a specialized test), something that many people believe is legal and as safe as cannabis. That herbal incense they were smoking, however, was not a safe, naturally-occurring plant.

Just remember, folks, that cannabis prohibition is what is fueling the market for these products. It’s the workplace and school drug testing that can test for synthetics but generally doesn’t, focusing instead on harmless cannabis use. It’s the fact that stressed out, emotionally vulnerable young people will always be looking for an escape, but they don’t want to risk their future to do so.

Making herbal incense and the wide range of synthetics used to create these questionable smoking blends illegal will not solve the problem. Synthetic cannabinoids should be legal for research and other purposes. If natural-state cannabis were legal and readily available, the demand for these synthetic blends with unpredictable results would plummet. Cannabis is safer and could be much more affordable for regular consumers than the faux-potpourri selling for more than $10/gram.


His family has started a memorial page in his honor, which you can follow on Facebook here. They have begun a media blitz to bring awareness to the dangers posed by synthetic drugs.

For previous Ladybud coverage of herbal incense and synthetic marijuana, click here.