Seizures, vomiting: 'addict' tells of long struggle with legal highs

K2 one of the legal high substances banned this year. Photo supplied.
K2 one of the legal high substances banned this year. Photo supplied.
Temporary paralysis, daily vomiting, seizures, coughing up ''black stuff'', violent mood swings and insomnia were all par for the course for those addicted to psychoactive substances, a former addict says.

The woman, who asked not to be named, told the story of her addiction at a public meeting in Queenstown on Thursday night to discuss the impact of the illegal ''legal highs'' on the community and what the Queenstown Lakes District Council may be able to do to control their sale, distribution and use locally.

Suffering insomnia, she began using the products about four years ago to aid sleep, thinking they would be ''safe because it was legal''.

She was soon gripped by her addiction, owed money, lost her job and suffered ongoing and serious health problems.

''By the end of it, I was having to wake up every hour to smoke it.

''I couldn't sleep without it - without it I'd go one or two days without sleeping.

''I vomited every morning ... I ended up with a stomach ulcer.''

About six months before quitting she suffered a seizure - a common side effect, she said.

A couple of weeks before quitting she ended up in Southland Hospital - the beginning of her ultimate recovery - after presenting in Queenstown with a migraine.

''I couldn't talk or walk or eat or anything.

''The people at the hospital [in Queenstown] sent me to Invercargill because they thought I had a brain bleed or something.

''While I was there I couldn't talk or do anything for myself.''

The woman spent two nights in hospital and was ''not allowed to move''.

The rest gave her body a chance to rid itself of some of the product and when she returned home she was able to sleep, gradually starting to feel ''better and better''.

''I didn't want to go back to that.

''I tried to avoid friends [who were still addicted].

''I know a lot of people and pretty much everyone was smoking it.''

She and many of the people she knew were offered the products ''on tick'', essentially creating an IOU for the retailer.

While the woman owed about $700 to the retailer, the debt was ''pretty low compared to some people''.

''They were giving them all of their money, not paying rent, not buying food.''

She said one nearby shop owner found addicts attempting to get money by telling stories, including saying their children had died, or attempting to steal money to pay for the products.

Despite the debt, the woman said she often received text messages offering her samples of new products.

One of her friends was allegedly used as a ''guinea pig'' for one of the companies.

''They were supplying her with free legals. Some of it made her really sick and make her have seizures.

''She'd black out for five hours. They didn't care.

''They kept giving her more and more and she'd keep smoking them.

''She had a seizure in front of me - she couldn't talk or anything for three hours.''

She knew of children as young as 13 being sold the products, but the retailers ''didn't care''.

''It's more money for them.''

However, it was not just the users who were affected, as the products wrought havoc on families and the community.

Many of her friends had been kicked out of home and had lost their jobs as a result of their addiction.

And despite the ban on the sale of the products, they were still readily available, she said.

''Friends stockpiled before it was [banned] and [sell] it for double the price.

''I could still find it.''

She had now been off the products for a year and had no desire to take them again.

It took about eight months before she was able to walk properly again and she coughed up ''black stuff'' for six months.

The effects were ''1000 times worse'' than cannabis, she said.

''Being high was the only good thing.''

The meeting was the first step in engaging the community to find out how it wanted the council to deal with psychoactive substances.

QLDC regulatory manager Lee Webster said the council had four options - to do nothing; create a Local Approved Product Policy to determine where they could be sold in the district and how close premises could be to each other and to sensitive areas such as schools; create a bylaw; or to use the district plan to help control their sale and distribution.

A joint forum with the Wanaka Alcohol Group will be held in Wanaka on Wednesday at the Lake Wanaka Centre from 7pm.

Following that meeting, Mr Webster said, he would provide a report to the council to determine what the next steps would be.