A coronial inquiry has found use of synthetic cannabinoids led to the death of a Perth man, who was having trouble sourcing his usual cannabis supply

Steven John Colloff, 47, had been a long-term user of cannabis without any known serious detrimental effects on his health, before making the “fateful decision” to turn to the alternative of using a synthetic cannabinoid.

According to an inquiry into Mr Colloff’s death held by the Perth Coroner’s Court, the deceased had reportedly been having difficulties sourcing his usual cannabis supply in late 2015.

On the morning of 21 November 2015, Mr Colloff was known to have smoked a synthetic cannabinoid called ‘Kronic’ prior to leaving his mother’s house in his car.

Other street names for similar substances at the time included ‘Blue Magic’, ‘Dr Evil’ and ‘Trainwreck Gold’.

A few hours later Mr Colloff was found at Kwinana Beach in Perth, suffering from severe heat stroke and seizures as a result of the effect of the synthetic cannabinoid and its consequences.

He was admitted to hospital and eventually into intensive care.

However despite the best efforts of paramedics and medical staff to treat his seizures and hyperthermia, Mr Colloff passed at 5.50pm the next day, on 22 November 2015.

A ‘multitude’ of synthetic cannabinoids on the market

Coroner Sarah Helen Linton of Perth Coroner’s Court accepted the conclusion of the forensic pathologist that the cause of death for Mr Colloff was multiple organ failure following an apparent toxic reaction to the use of synthetic cannabinoids.

Toxicology analysis undertaken on samples obtained from the deceased on his admission to hospital, as well as after his death, showed the presence of two known synthetic cannabinoid substances – AB-CHMINACA and 5F-AMB.

While Mr Colloff was on several medications including risperidone, citalopram, rivaroxaban and metoprolol for a variety of health conditions, none of these were considered a factor in his death.

Expert witness Professor David Joyce, a clinical pharmacologist and toxicologist, said the seizures experienced by the deceased were very likely to have been caused by the synthetic cannabinoid exposure.

Professor Joyce warned that while there is a “multitude” of synthetic cannabinoids on the market designed to stimulate brain receptors as they respond to the natural cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), “hardly any of these chemicals have been submitted to even superficial safety testing”.

Instead, practically everything we know of their toxicology comes from human misadventure with their use, he said.

‘No safe level of intoxication’

Synthetic cannabinoids are reportedly generally manufactured in clandestine laboratories overseas, Coroner Linton pointed out.

In order to resemble natural cannabis and allow it to be smoked as such, the synthetic compound is usually sprayed onto plant material.

Professor Joyce stated he was aware of 169 different types of synthetic cannabinoids having been identified to date.

Kronic was one such substance, which became prohibited by the Western Australian government in June 2011 along with a number of other synthetic cannabinoids.

In 2015, the WA government also introduced new provisions covering psychoactive substances, in order to close the regulatory gap that enabled new and emerging psychoactive substances to be sold because they were not captured by or regulated via existing legislation.

These provisions came into effect on 18 November 2015, just prior to the death of the deceased.

Bianca Douglas, the manager of forensic Toxicology at ChemCentre WA, told the inquiry that the first samples of synthetic cannabinoids were seen in WA in late 2010.

Ms Douglas gave evidence that while prevalence of their use is decreasing, these substances are still being detected in coronial cases, both alone or in conjunction with other drugs and alcohol.

“There remains a concern that members of the public are not appreciating the risk that they run in using these unregulated and potentially toxic substances,” Coroner Linton said.

“As Professor Joyce noted, there is no safe level of intoxication with these drugs … What is known for sure is that they are ‘much more dangerous than natural cannabis’ and cannot be used in a similar way or as a safe alternative.

“Mr Collof’s death should serve as a warning to potential users of synthetic cannabinoid substances that they are not a safe alternative to natural cannabis, and neither have they been a legal alternative in Western Australia since the end of 2015,” she concluded.