Dozens of New Zealanders have died since mid 2017 after they used synthetic cannabinoids. Hundreds if not thousands have developed problematic use or experienced serious negative side effects such as psychosis.
There are many things communities can do. Leading a response in your area could include education about harms to discourage use, ensuring those who use are safer, intensively supporting people that are struggling, and start addressing key factors like homelessness or unstable housing arrangements.
Synthetic cannabinoids (Usually applied to smokable plant material) are a group of substances that effect the endocannabinoid system. They are being connected to many deaths in New Zealand, and are now much more toxic than natural cannabis and 'legal highs' that were sold before 2014. There is no way of knowing which synthetic cannabinoid(s) you have or how concentrated it is.
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 which can put you at risk of overdose. They often have unpleasant side effects and longer after effects.
Synthetic cannabinoids are a cost effective dissociative ("out of it" feeling) which leads some people to use it to keep difficult feelings or memories at bay. People who sleep rough or have unstable living arrangements and are without work are at the most risk of problems resulting in hospitalisation or death. Review the accessibility of relevant support available to people in your community who are in temporary or unstable housing, people with mental health struggles, and people without work. Some younger people who are not in work or study are also at risk.
People who are using synthetics need harm reduction advice so that they are able to make informed and safer choices. Stopping use may be a long-term goal, but in the short-term it's important and more realistic to focus on safer use and steps to reduce use.
It is safest not to use these substances at all, and people who aren’t using synthetics don’t need much detail.
New Zealand's drug law is in a state of crisis, despite recent small steps in the right direction. Rather than punishing people in the hope it will compel them to stop using drugs, MPs need to pass legislation that puts health and compassion first.
Strictly regulating access to relatively low harm substances, including natural cannabis, should be 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:
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