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Over 45 New Zealanders have died since mid-2017 from synthetic cannabinoids. Hundreds more experienced serious side effects like psychosis and overdose. Synthetic cathinones are also being mis-sold as other drugs leading to serious side effects and hospitalisations.
There are things we can do immediately to support those struggling and other actions to address the root causes of these issues. Subscribe to updates, learn more about synthetics, and lead a response in your area.Subscribe to updates Synthetic cannabinoids Synthetic cathinones What we're doing
Synthetic cannabinoids (Usually applied to smokable plant material) are a group of hundreds of substances effecting the endocannabinoid system of the body. They have recently caused many deaths in New Zealand, and are much more toxic than both natural cannabis and milder versions called 'legal highs' that were previously sold. There is no way of knowing which synthetic cannabinoid(s) were used or what concentration.
Synthetic cathinones (Usually a powder, pill or capsule) are stimulants which can be more harmful than traditional drugs. They are often mis-sold as drugs such as MDMA but have a much lower active dose putting people at risk of overdose. They often have unpleasant side effects and longer lasting after effects.
Synthetic cannabinoids are sometimes used for their powerful dissociative or "out of it" effect which may help some people keep difficult feelings or memories at bay. People who sleep rough appear to be most at risk of serious harm resulting in hospitalisation or death. Communities should make sure they have good support for people in temporary or unstable housing, people with mental health struggles, and people without work. Younger people not in work or study are also an at risk group.
It is safest not to use these substances at all. And people who aren’t using synthetics don’t need much detail. But people who are using synthetics need harm reduction advice, so they can make more informed and often safer choices. Stopping use can be a long-term goal, but short-term goals to reduce use and/or use more safely can feel more attainable.
Emerging synthetic cannabinoid harm reduction advice
New Zealand's law itself is in a state of crisis. Rather than trying to punish people out of using drugs, MPs need to pass legislation that puts health and compassion first.
Strictly regulating access to lower harm substances, including natural cannabis, should form a major part of any solution. Systemic issues also need to be addressed, such as addressing the root causes of poverty, alienation and despair.
The Drug Foundation position is that we should:
By working with others in your community, you can make a difference for those most at risk. There are no quick fixes, but there are practical actions you can take. The toolkit contains: