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“Legal Highs” (Synthetic Cannabis)

What's in them?

Some herbal substances that are used recreationally are available legally in New Zealand. This means they have not been controlled under the law; it doesn’t mean that they are proven safe (‘natural’ doesn’t mean ‘safe’!). Some common herbal highs are “salvia” and “kava”.”Salvia” is one of the most commonly used herbal highs, producing a short but intense episode of mental and physical effects when smoked.

Another category of legal highs, that are not herbal, are products such as “Aroma,” “Spice,” “Dream” and “Illusion.” These products claim to provide a legal and natural alternative to cannabis. However, what you need to know about these products is that they contain synthetic chemicals to give them their effects. These chemicals have not been tested and the potential effects on the body are largely unknown.

NOTE: “Kronic” and “K2” are now banned – these substances are currently undergoing testing around their effects.

The main problem with substances claimed to be herbal highs is we know so little about their risks. They aren’t quality controlled, so the amount of the active chemical that gives the ‘high’ feeling can vary heaps. Also, there are usually other chemicals in varying amounts, many of which have unknown effects and risks. Many herbal chemicals (such as in the herb datura) can be poisonous and it can be easy to accidentally overdose.

It is difficult to know how much is a dangerous amount when we know so little about the substance quality, how it affects users in the long term, or how the effects change when used in combination with other substances like alcohol. Every person is very different, so a ‘safe’ dose for one person may cause very bad symptoms in someone else. People have been hospitalised after using herbal substances alone or with other substances, so there are certainly risks to watch out for.

These substances often leave users incapable of interacting with other people as well as the environment surrounding them. So if you are to try some of these substances you should do so in a safe environment that you are familiar with and have a sober person looking out for you. The safest option is always to avoid these substances completely. However if you decide to use them then do so responsibly and know what substances are being taken so you can tell the doctor in case someone has a bad reaction.