Call for synthetic-cannabis controls
Drug control groups are calling for a tightening of laws relating to synthetic cannabis products, which can be bought over the counter but have not been tested for safety.
Trading under exotic names such as Puff and Thai High, the range of products are available from shops such as Auckland's Hemp Store and Cosmic Corner, and also on the internet. They have similar effects to the active ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol. Many of the R18 chemicals are marketed as herbal incense, but the fine print on the packaging states the products are able to be smoked. Those branded as Kronic, Dream, Space and Aroma, despite being marketed as incense, are described as best smoked in a joint or pipe.
A shop assistant told the Herald the term incense was used as "a cover", before advising which of the products - designed "to mimic the effects of marijuana" - would give the best "high".
One of the most popular synthetic cannabis products - "Spice" - warns buyers it is not intended for human consumption but at the same time boasts it will not show up in drug tests and is "nicotine free". Spice costs the same as cannabis - $20 a gram or $50 for three grams.
Synthetic cannabis products have already been outlawed in seven countries - including Britain, Germany and France - and are rapidly falling from favour in others. Ireland, Russia and Romania this year moved to make Spice and similar synthetic cannabinoid products illegal, though Spice remains legal in many parts of the United States.
The NZ Health Ministry will decide next month whether to formally review the status of the substances.
Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said such products were finding their way on to the market with "no controls whatsoever", and the law needed to change to ensure the seller could prove their safety before sale.
"These products are allowed on the market because of weak rules, no health warnings, no controls. The laws have not kept up with the chemists. We really don't know what's in these."
Jennifer Sibley, a senior forensic scientist for the Drugs Group at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, said the drugs were very hard to analyse and hard to confirm the presence of "unless we have something to compare it to". "Legislation doesn't usually happen until someone dies, which is what happened with Fantasy".
Fantasy is used as a recreational drug often at dance parties but is also a date-rape drug. After a reported death, it was made illegal in New Zealand.
Drugs such as synthetic cannabis and BZP-free party pills can be imported, manufactured and sold without any controls.
LEGAL BUT STILL DANGEROUS
Spice - easily available, no comeback and if it is as good as they say, why would you buy anything illegal? ..But the effects are very different from those of real cannabis.
Firstly, it tastes and smells absolutely disgusting - like burning rubber - and the smoke is as harsh.
The "high" does not become noticeable for about 30 minutes, making it impossible for a first-time user to understand how much of a dose is needed, which is dangerous.
And when it does hit, the strength is overpowering.
Hallucinations are frequent. Colours become more vivid, and sounds reverberate around your head.
Concentration becomes intense, internal dialogue takes over and yet thoughts often spiral off on tangents.
There is no euphoria and the effects last and last and last - several hours from one joint.
The worst part, after the high settles and begins to subside, is the state of paranoia that can set in. You begin to question so much more, you worry, you agitate, and you wish you could come down, but you cannot.
Aside from the health implications of an untested chemical, the trip feels as synthetic as the product. Its strength is dangerous, and its effects are not what you might expect, or indeed want.
If cannabis is controlled on safety and public health grounds, then this should be too.
The British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs warns that synthetic cannabinoids may be more harmful than cannabis because of their potency, dose variability and overdose risk.
Some users have developed psychotic symptoms including:
* Delusional beliefs.
* Strange and erratic behaviour.
* Some with a history of mental illness become unwell again.
Synthetic cannabinoids in these products include CP47497, JWH-018 and HU-210. CP47497 is illegal in NZ but JWH-018 does not fall under existing legislation.
By Caitlin Duggan
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