Rotorua's Corey-James Brown fought to walk and talk again after a car crash in 2008 - but just 10 years later smoking synthetic cannabis claimed his life.

A coroner has ruled that toxicity from synthetic drugs killed the 37-year-old when he was smoking the drug with his friends at a flat on Hinemoa St in Rotorua on November 22 last year.

Brown, who was described as having a golden voice and would regularly busk on Rotorua streets, lived with his father in Glenholme.

The "complex character" had a remarkable history that saw him fight back from a serious car crash in 2008 that left him on life support.


He regained his speech, mobility, bladder and bowel control but the effects of the crash changed his life forever.

In Coroner Gordon Matenga's inquest findings, released this week to the Rotorua Daily Post, Brown's father, Paul Brown, was keen for the court to acknowledge his son was not a homeless vagrant with mental health and drug addictions issues, which he was often mistaken as being.

He described his son as "charming and charismatic one moment and surly and belligerent the next". But he had the support of his family and his church where he worshipped regularly.

The other side of Brown was that he would regularly associate with his vagrant friends and smoke synthetic cannabis in a local park, the finding said.

On November 22, he caught up with one of his friends at the Hinemoa St flat, which was a weekly occurrence.

The occupier of the flat left about 9.30am and returned about 1.40pm. As he entered he noticed a strong smell of synthetics and two young men drinking cans of Cody's.

He asked the young men to leave his flat and then found Brown lying unresponsive on the floor of his flatmate's room.

At this time, another flatmate arrived home and was asked to call an ambulance from a nearby payphone.


Paramedics couldn't revive Brown and noted his hands and face were blue, consistent with respiratory failure.

Police attending the scene noticed the strong smell of synthetic cannabis. Although no drugs were found, there was evidence drugs had been used.

An autopsy showed the presence of Amb-Fubinaca acid, a metabolite of the synthetic cannabinoids, as well as a designer drug called Para-Fluorophenylpiperazine, which is used to stimulate the central nervous system, similar to methamphetamine.

Nothing else of significance was found during the autopsy.

Coroner Matenga said it was well-known that in the preparation of synthetic cannabis material, the manufacturing process could create hot pockets of the active ingredient on the plant material, which created consistence issues.

"While it cannot be known, it is likely that Mr Brown has been affected in this way."

Coroner Matenga said he was satisfied the death wasn't intentional.

After Brown's death, the city's homeless gathered to pay tribute to their friend who was known as a man with a golden voice.

His family took his body back to his home in Wainuiomata and many of the city's homeless attended the funeral.

His family had previously told the Rotorua Daily Post Brown had spent 17 days in a coma after his car crash.

His life changed forever from that moment and the rest of his life was a constant battle to get help and housing.

Before his crash, the father of five had a good job and a normal functioning life in Wainuiomata, they said.

"Corey-James was brought up around te reo Māori and tikanga, he went to Hato Paora College in Feilding and was known for composing haka and waiata," they said at the time.

Elmer Peiffer, who runs Love Soup Rotorua which feeds the homeless in Rotorua, said Brown was a special person to their group.

Those associated with Love Soup had mourned his loss.

Peiffer said Brown's death highlighted the danger of synthetics.

"It's become a real problem in Rotorua and unfortunately easily accessible. The sad and scary part of synthetics is the number of lives it impacts on or ends. Some people turn to it to escape the reality of any situation they are in, and is highly addictive to anyone who uses it like any other substance that is easily affordable and accessible."

He said it saddened him to see coroners' findings and they hoped those involved in synthetics searched for the support to stop using.

"Some street people had advised other street users to stop, because they could die from use, which shows that all street people do not use, and are aware of the effects of synthetics."

What is synthetic cannabis

Synthetic cannabis is a smokeable plant material containing one or more chemical compounds called synthetic cannabinoids that cause the user to get "high". Synthetic cannabinoids are manufactured in a laboratory and little is currently known about their effects on humans

What is the harm of taking synthetic cannabis

Many synthetic cannabinoids are more potent than cannabis and have the ability to cause significant physical and mental harm. The risk associated with synthetic cannabis use is substantial, as the user will not know which type of synthetic cannabinoid they are consuming or how strong the dose is.
- Ministry of Health

What to do if somebody consumes synthetic cannabis

If someone falls unconscious after smoking synthetic cannabinoids they could die.
• Ask loudly if they are okay. Shake them gently
• If they are not responsive, dial 111 and request an ambulance
• Check they are breathing and place them in a stable side position. If they are not breathing start chest compressions

Always call an ambulance if someone:

• is unconscious
• stops breathing
• has a seizure
• is extremely agitated for longer than 15 minutes
• has chest pain or breathing difficulties for longer than 5 minutes

Source: New Zealand Drug Foundation