Yesterday, as many synthetic cannabis users lit up their pipes, bongs & joints on what many thought was the last day legal highs could be sold in shops …
Media Works presenter Duncan Garner was applauded by many for “giving it a go” and by his own admission, his social media accounts including twitter certainly lit up with excitement and boosted ratings for Radio Live NZ.
Legal Highs are a hot topic right now and the media are really getting amongst.
Mr Garners self proclaimed independent research certainly showed us that for first time users, a lot goes a long way. To spite being warned against it, Duncan had done what many adults and possibly some children do all too often. He had overindulged in a drug.
Whether it be alcohol, cannabis, caffeine or synthetic cannabinoids, all four of these substances have limits; health limits, social limits, comfort limits and dosage limits. It wouldn’t matter which one of these four substances Duncan had taken, if he had over indulged on any one of them, especially for a first time user, his reaction would have been similar.
Let’s take a few steps back for a minute, take it back to beginning. The first time you over indulged in caffeine. Perhaps you had one too many coffee’s, one too many energy drinks perhaps. The recommended limits for a healthy adult is around 200mg per day. That’s about 5 or 6 cups of coffee. When a user starts to go beyond those recommended limits is when the trouble begins.
Irritability, restlessness, nervousness, increased heartbeat, nausea, anxiety, heart palpitations, insomnia, sweating, dizziness and vomiting. Generally a dose between 250-300mg could produce some of the above mild to moderate symptoms, especially in those with NO TOLERANCE. Those with a caffeine allergy could have sever symptoms even after a very small dose.
These negative symptoms, match quite closely to those experienced by Duncan Garner when he experienced synthetic cannabis for the first time. From what we understand, Duncan loves his sports, he loves to drink and he loves his food, but he doesn’t love to smoke cannabis. Not many people do. In fact less than 25% of kiwi’s smoke cannabis (the real thing) on a regular basis, because they don’t like the effect it has on them. Fine. They try it, they don’t enjoy it and they don’t smoke it. No body is forcing anybody to consume cannabis or any legal high.
His test wasn’t fair. He went in to the “test” with zero tolerance, he consumed well above his limits and he was incredibly anxious before consuming the product. He didn’t feel comfortable and it resulted in a very negative experience. I genuinely felt quite sorry for Duncan, he was confused, anxious, irritable and somewhat embarrassed.
This brings us to the first issue with the current legal highs industry, there is no regulation. Duncan had no idea how much was a safe and mild dose to consume. There was no information on the packaging for a start. Distributor of the Juicy Puff product ‘Cosmic Corner’ had failed to put any kind of warnings or safety information on the packaging. It’s this kind of neglect that has put the legal highs industry in to turmoil with the public and put users at risk.
The new legal highs bill that is coming in August will ensure that manufacturers and distributors must have adequate warnings, instructions, ingredients lists on the packaging to instruct users of the potential effects, side effects and how much to consume. There will also be restrictions on how strong products can and can’t be.
Right, so say the products have adequate warnings on them, with dosage instructions and an ingredients list (like most responsible manufacturers currently do) – what about access, children getting a hold of them?
This is what Duncan Garner has been campaigning against after all, just because he doesn’t like the sensation of being “stoned” doesn’t mean he’s not wrong about the accessibility of these legal highs. They’re available at around half of the nations convenience stores and dairies. Many people complain that the products are far too accessible for our youth and it’s causing problems. Now, I can’t agree more with Duncan on this issue. Our youth’s should not have access to these legal highs, users should be responsible adults before they can choose to consume drugs like alcohol or synthetic cannabis.
But that brings us to our next issue, the general public above 18 are responsible “adults” – but there is always going to be a small percentage of people that essentially ruin it for the rest of us. To spite the governments best efforts at a law governing legal recreational synthetic psychoactive substances (what a mouth full) even with a low risk product, SUCH AS synthetic cannabis, there are still going to be people that abuse the products to a degree that it negatively affects the physical, mental and economic health of themselves or those around them.
According to ACC and the Ministry of Health, Between 18 and 35% of injury-based emergency department presentations are estimated to be alcohol related, rising to between 60 and 70% during the weekend. This is a serious serious problem and represents a far greater problem to our youths and our community than we like to admit.
Sure, Duncan was over whelmed with the strong psychoactive effects of synthetic cannabis (and he would most likely encounter similar effects when smoking the ‘real deal’) but imagine that one safe dose was considered to be about 100mg of herb, and one joint was about one gram of synthetic cannabis. That that one gram joint of synthetic cannabis was considered to be about ten safe doses. Duncan had just consumed about 10 doses of a strong synthetic cannabis in one hit. Quite a lot for a first timer. Now let’s compare one small and safe dose of synthetic cannabis to be the equivalent of one or two beers.
Duncan had essentially downed between 10 – 20 beers in the space of a few minutes. Imagine how a first time drinker would react to such a dose of alcohol. Now I understand we’re somewhat comparing apples with oranges in this instance, but the theory is pretty sound. In the competitive legal highs industry, the stronger the better.
The stronger your product is, the less you have to smoke and the higher you get. Great for regular users with little or no tolerance, not so great for first timer users like Duncan Garner. This is precisely the reasons we are seeing people of all ages in the emergency rooms with synthetic cannabis related symptoms. People are trying these ultra high strength products for the first time and they are freaking out.
Irritability, restlessness, nervousness, increased heartbeat, nausea, anxiety, heart palpitations, insomnia, sweating, dizziness and vomiting. All similar effects that we see with alcohol, cannabis, caffeine and synthetic cannabis overdoses. But none life threatening. Or are they?
Right now we don’t know the long term effects of synthetic cannabis use, but we do know those with alcohol.
“Alcohol kills 17 New Zealanders a day. Synthetic Cannabis has never caused any fatality in NZ” says Grant Hall, industry spokesman for the legal highs industry, “It has been around since 2001 and it’s only in the last few months that we are hearing a cacophony of noise that seems to us to be based on rumour and scaremongering.”
Mr Hall said health problems arising from synthetic cannabis were caused, in every instance he had investigated, by people not following directions on how to consume the products safely or consuming alcohol at the same time.
To wrap things up, I think we need to understand that the government and the legal highs industry has been working very hard towards a new regulated industry and a new law that will serve as a world first for sensible legal recreational drug policy. It takes time and things must be done once and done right. The new law will go live in August, a little over 60 days away. It’s not that far, and the media must stop putting so much pressure on the government so that they have time to work out all the kinks and get things right.
In the mean time, let’s take a look at the bigger problem in our community. Liqour.