There are chemicals that can be found in synthetic cannabis that are illegal in Victoria. What does a youth worker need to know?

WHAT

Synthetic cannabis is an illegal psychoactive substance that was originally designed to mimic the effects of cannabis. It is often sold online, in adult stores or in herbal high shops.

Victorian laws in relation to synthetic cannabis are very complex and confusing. There are chemicals that can be found in synthetic cannabis that are illegal in Victoria. However there is a rapid rate of manufacturing new chemicals to get around the law. 

OTHER NAMES

Synthetic cannabis can go by many names such as Kronic, K2, Spice, Zeus, Tai high, Puff, Northern lights, Marley,or Blue lotus.

HOW COMMON IS USAGE?

Synthetic Cannabis is a newer substance and there is limited reliable data on rates of use in Australia. What we do know is that there has been a decrease in synthetic cannabis use in the last few years, however an increase in ED presentation relating to synthetic cannabis use.

APPEARANCE

Usually appears as a natural herb, the most common way of selling synthetic cannabis is by spraying the chemical onto natural dried herbs that look like cannabis.

It usually comes in bright coloured packaging. Sometimes it is labelled as plant food, herbal incense or potpourri. On the packaging the product is often described as “herbal.

USE

Smoked in a bong, pipe, joint, eaten or sometimes drunk.

EFFECTS

At times there can be similar effects to cannabis.

It is important to note that some of the newer substances that are being labelled “synthetic cannabis” do not mimic the effects of THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). The effects that are being reported by users can be negative and potentially harmful:

fast and irregular heartbeat, racing thoughts, agitation, anxiety, psychosis, aggression, chest pain, vomiting, seizures, stroke, death

As Synthetic Cannabis and New Psychoactive Substances are new to the market/ sector at times there is limited information on their long term effects.

The strength of synthetic cannabis and the chemicals used vary from batch to batch. This makes it hard to predict what the effects will be. 

WITHDRAWAL

It is being reported from users that withdrawing from synthetic cannabis is very different from cannabis. Withdrawals start on day 2 after ceasing use. There have been reports of stomach cramping, insomnia, paranoia, panic attacks, agitation, anxiety, mood swings and rapid heart rate.

If a young person you are working with wishes to cease using synthetic cannabis it is advised that you explore a detox stay with them. 

OVERDOSE

Unlike cannabis where overdose is almost non-existent there have been reports of overdose or adverse reactions for users of synthetic cannabis. Symptoms have included seizures, vomiting, agitation and confusion-hospital admission has been required on occasions. Not all ingredients are listed on the packets or the correct amounts this increases the risk of overdose. 

Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Try YoDAA’s more general info about synthetic drugs or ask YoDAA.

SOME COMMON HARM REDUCTION STRATEGIES

Encourage a young person to: -

  • Use regular cannabis instead of synthetic
  • understand the risks involved in mixing other drugs and alcohol, including prescription medication.
  • let someone know if you are not feeling well after using.
  • Talk to a young person about having a person to call in case they are feeling worried, paranoid or start to panic.
  • call an ambulance if you are worried at any point about themselves or a friend. Remind them that an ambulance will not call the police.
  • try a small amount first, wait to see how the drug affects them before taking more. 
  • never using alone.
  • take regular breaks from use to avoid dependency.
  • stay hydrated when they are using
  • think about the dangers of drinking and using drugs and driving or getting in a car with someone who has been drinking or taking drugs.
  • be in a safe and comfortable space.
  • make a plan prior to using, get them to plan to only use a certain amount, get them to make a “just in case” plan, and get them to plan how they are going to get home.

Here’s a video from Global Drug Survey about the risks of synthetic cannabis.

Read an interview with one of the chemists who developed synthetic cannibinoids such as Kronic.  

Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Try YoDAA’s more general info about synthetic drugs here or ask YoDAA.