Deceptive and dangerous: What you and your kids need to know about synthetic cannabis

Talking about the dangers of synthetic weed can be really challenging for parents trying to educate their kids about drug use, but it is a really important conversation every family needs to have. Here’s how to get informed and get the conversation started.

synthetic cannanbis

Last year, one family in the USA was struck down by the tragic news that their teenage son was suffering serious brain injury and would likely not pull through. As parents, this is absolutely the worst news we could ever imagine receiving, and around the globe, thoughts and prayers went out to this family as they made the heart breaking decision to turn off life support and farewell 19 year old Connor Eckhart. While the death of such a young and promising man was devastating, perhaps the most challenging part of this story is that this situation could have been avoided if more people understood the dangerous and very real side effects of so called “fake weed” or “synthetic cannabis” (also known as synthetic marijuana). As a parent, can you be sure you and your kids know enough to make the right decisions?

Synthetic weed – what do we really know?

Perhaps one of the most frightening things for all of us as parents is not being able to give our kids clear information when we’re trying to educate them about something that may endanger them. As echoed in the Eckert families farewell warning video taken at Connor’s bedside, while we may not know much about synthetic cannabis products, it’s really important we share what we do know and give our kids a better idea of what to look out for.

Synthetic cannabinoids are a group of drugs that alter the mind and aim to give the same sort of ‘high’ as cannabis by acting on the same receptors in the brain but don’t contain the THC found in botanical cannabis. Unfortunately where they fail in this area, is that they include a range of unknown, man-made chemicals that can produce various harmful side effects. While many of us may wonder why someone would consume something so mysterious and so dangerous, the answer partly lies in the packaging.

Synthetic cannabis packaging looks more commercial than that of other illegal drugs, giving potential users the false impression that it may be legal. It also marketed to look attractive and branded with interesting and safe sounding names like Spice, Northern Lights, Passionfruit Skunk, K2 and Kronic. The packaging is intentionally made to look safe and legal, even though many of these products contain small print that reads, ‘not fit for human consumption’ in the fine print – and if they don’t feature that warning, they should!

Synthetic weed - what are the risks?

The fact of the matter is WE DON’T KNOW what is in these products. The chemicals used to produce synthetics have only very recently been created and they have not been tested for human consumption. Though they are now illegal, manufacturers keep changing the ingredients as a way of getting around law enforcement approaches. With potentially fatal consequences - the stakes are incredibly high, so it is really important that teenagers are made aware of the potential risks and side effects associated with use.

Some of the reported negative effects of using synthetic marijuana are really alarming and a clear indication that these are drugs to be avoided at all cost. Documented effects have included loss of consciousness, vomiting, seizures, agitation, high blood pressure, chest pains, panic attacks, anxiety and depression. Some people have even reported heart attacks and kidney failure as a result of using synthetics. There are many reports of users experimenting with synthetic cannabinoids needing to seek emergency medical assistance and two recent deaths here in Australia.

Is synthetic weed legal to use in Australia?

No. As of 2012, all synthetic cannabinomimetics have been included in Schedule 9 of the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons. This means that the sale, distribution, use and manufacture of any drug or chemical that aims to mimic the effects of cannabis in the same category as botanical cannabis, is strictly prohibited by law in Australia.

How should your family approach the topic?

Talking about drugs can be difficult. To kick off, ensure your children feel safe to ask questions, a family conversation about any drug should come from a very open and honest place. With teens it is often easier to start a conversation in the car, asking if they’ve heard of these drugs and whether their friends are talking about them. This will give you an idea if they have heard of these drugs and what their attitudes might be. Remember to stay positive and express you own concerns clearly, while allowing your adolescent to express theirs too. Make your own expectations of your child clear, but do so without judgement or ultimatums.

Before initiating any conversation, the first step is to get informed. A recent NCPIC survey found that the vast majority of Australian parents actually know very little about synthetic cannabis, and therefore may be inadequately equipped to talk about them with their family.

Getting informed about synthetics is easy. NCPIC has a wealth of accurate, factual information on synthetics, you can find our factsheets and fast facts on our website. These can act as a great starting point for discussions as they answer a lot of common questions about these potentially lethal drugs.

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