Synthetic cannabis -Fast facts for workers
There has recently been a batch of synthetic cannabis that has led to 20 young people being hospitalised. There are chemicals that can be found in synthetic cannabis that are illegal in Victoria. What does a youth worker need to know?
Synthetic cannabis is a psychoactive substance that was originally designed to mimic the effects of cannabis. However there are many reports of different effects. 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 some 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.
As new chemicals are introduced to synthetic cannabis there product and name is constantly changing. 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.
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”, however the actual psychoactive material is synthetic. Not all ingredients are listed on the packets or the correct amounts this increases the risk of overdose.
Consumed in similar ways to regular cannabis- smoked in a bong, pipe, joint, eaten or sometimes drunk.
At times there can be similar effects to cannabis:
- decreased concentration,
- Slower reaction times.
- Auditory and visual hallucinations.
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
- chest pain
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.
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.
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.
SOME COMMON HARM REDUCTION STRATEGIES
If you are working with a young person who uses synthetic cannabis try encourage them to
- Take regular breaks from smoking to avoid dependency
- Only use a small amount to begin with as we cannot be sure the potency of the substance
- Let the previous dose wear off before using again
- Use regular cannabis.
- Avoid using alone, share the experience with someone who has used before or with someone who is not using.
- Monitor their mental health before using to ensure it is stable
- Call and ambulance if concerned.
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.