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Synthetic cannabis smokers are turning to the real thing to alleviate crippling withdrawal symptoms since a new law removed the products from retail shelves this month.
Tauranga health practitioners have experienced a surge in people seeking help to get off chemically produced cannabis after the Psychoactive Substances Bill came into effect on July 17.
Krista Davis, of Get Smart Tauranga, said many of her clients had been seeking help from the drug and alcohol addiction service to stop smoking synthetic cannabis.
They were concerned about the removal of the product from retail shelves and some were turning to natural cannabis, she said.
"Many have felt that they are now addicted to these legal highs and are having bad experiences because of them - spending too much money on it, needing more and more of it, mood disruptions, physical and health concerns."
Ms Davis said many people withdrawing from the drug suffered excessive sweating, vomiting, kidney issues, cravings and irritations.
"[They] are now smoking more cannabis in place of synthetic cannabis."
The bill bans the sale of the former "legal highs" from dairies. Retailers wanting to sell the product must apply for a licence.
Hanmer Clinic Tauranga director David Benton said he also knew of people alleviating synthetic withdrawal symptoms with natural cannabis.
Mr Benton said coming off synthetic cannabis could be especially hard on people because some substances used in the product caused "quite acute mental distress, ranging from sleeplessness, nausea to some psychosis".
"You can get these effects from any drug but it certainly seems that in terms of this, it's on par with methamphetamine for some people."
Mount Maunganui GP Tony Farrell had seen people become psychotic on synthetic cannabis and knew of several cases where people struggled to come off it.
He was concerned for people dependent on synthetic cannabis, "as usually they will be suffering other mental health problems and may find themselves not only suffering from withdrawal, but from other psychiatric symptoms as well, so it is important that they seek help from their GP, drug and alcohol clinic, or counsellors".
Police Association Bay of Plenty and Waikato regional director Wayne Aberhart said he suspected many synthetic cannabis smokers had moved on to the real thing, as there had been little feedback from police regarding synthetic smokers causing problems for police as they went through the withdrawal process.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board's Dr Sue Mackersey said staff were treating patients in the in-patient and community services who had presented with mental illness as a consequence of using synthetic drugs.
The Mental Health and Addiction Services clinical director said about five people a week in recent months suffered aggression, psychosis, loss of reality with delusions, paranoia and hallucinations.
- By Kiri Gillespie of the Bay of Plenty Times
The Psychoactive Substances Bill received overwhelming cross-party support in Parliament, with 119 members voting in favour and one against. The new law provides restrictions on the availability and accessibility of so-called "legal highs" in communities around New Zealand including:
- No sales from dairies or any sort of grocery store, petrol stations, or anywhere alcohol is sold;
- No sales to under 18-year-olds;
- No advertising, except at the point of sale;
Anyone breaching the rules faces up to two years in prison or a fine of up to $500,000.