Kronic mistakes being made with synthetic cannabis

Synthetic cannabis took the Australian market by storm a few years ago - so why is it a drug you should really aim to avoid?

northern_lights_mango.jpgYou’re at a party, someone offers you a joint. You say you can’t – you have work in the morning and you know you’ll get the sack if it shows up in one of those random drug tests. Besides, it stays in your system for a fair while so it could still show up in a test a week from now. “It’s fine mate, this new stuff can’t be picked up by drug tests,” you’re told, “it’s not even real weed!”

Synthetic cannabis sounds too good to be true, right? It definitely is.

While the story above sounds like the stuff of fantasy, unfortunately when synthetic cannabis products like Kronic and Spice hit the market a few years ago, this was a very real and potentially dangerous scenario. Available in local herbal shops and undetectable in drug tests, blue collar workers such as miners, and young people alike jumped at the opportunity for the ‘legal high’ sold in commercialised packaging that made it seem less risky.

Though these drugs – made from plant material sprayed with various chemicals – did initially take off, the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) highlighted recently that overall use of synthetic cannabis is now down by more than half. This is a really promising result of it’s now illegal status and some strong education by various groups. Despite this report, synthetic cannabis is still used by various groups for many reasons, including those below:

1. To avoid detection

On the surface it seems to make sense. If it’s not regular weed then how can they test for it? For a lot of people, particularly those working in heavy industry like mining or construction who undergo systematic drug testing, synthetic cannabis looks like a great alternative to normal weed. The belief is that because it’s a new/different set of chemicals it won’t be detected when it’s your turn to pee in the cup.

Unfortunately, for those using to avoid getting busted at work, this is not actually the case. As synthetic cannabinoid compounds continue to evolve, so too does the technology available to test for synthetic use. Products like Spice or Kronic may now be picked up in modern drug tests.

2. They believe it is a safer or healthier alternative

So you find yourself smoking a bit more weed a bit more often than you would really like to, and you think, “I really should be cutting back”. Then someone hands you a pretty harmless looking package that imitates the effects of weed, it seems like a reasonable substitute. Besides, if you can buy it over the counter, it can’t be bad for you, right?

Whether it is normal ‘street’ weed or synthetic cannabis, neither are healthy to use recreationally. Synthetic cannabis is certainly not a ‘healthy alternative’ because they can cause a range of severe side effects or adverse reactions, many of which have been well-documented in the media.

The products consist of organic matter that is sprayed with unknown and changing chemical compounds, which can have negative impacts on a person’s physical or mental wellbeing. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of people becoming seriously ill (and in a few cases dying) from using these dangerous products. We only need to look at the case of 19 year old Connor Eckhardt, who fell into a coma and eventually died after trying synthetic weed for the first time, as an example of just how dangerous this stuff can really be.

3. They think it’s legal

If it comes in a nice branded little package, surely it must be legal. If it’s not actually weed, it must be legal. If you can buy it in a shop, it must be legal. These are all pretty reasonable assumptions to make, but unfortunately none of them are true.

Once upon a time synthetics did sit outside the law, but this has not been the case in Australia for a long time now. Each state and territory has imposed its own ban on synthetic cannabinoids, on top of existing Commonwealth legislation which also prohibits the substances. Just because something is readily available and packaged in a seemingly harmless way does not make it legal. For more information, see our factsheet on synthetic cannabis.

So what can we do?

The best answer to this is education. The smartest thing we can do is ensure vulnerable groups, like young people, are protected by their own knowledge and ability to make well-informed decisions. Combatting the common myths about legal status and risks is a good first step, and everyone has a part to play in this. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, health care professional or a young person, getting the word out that synthetic cannabis is a dangerous and illegal drug may just help to ensure we don’t have to read any more stories that like of Connor Eckhardt.

If you’re having trouble with synthetic cannabis, our cannabis helpline is available to provide advice, guidance or just a listening ear when you need to talk or vent. You can call the helpline on 1800 30 40 50.

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