Legal highs can no longer be sold as a product for human consumption, so they are often sold as incense, bath salts, research chemicals, plant food, or advertised as ‘not for human consumption’ to get around the law.
Victoria Hearn from Lifewise, the not for profit community and social development agency, says: “Since being banned, shops are getting away with selling [legal highs] as ‘incense’. Once someone buys it, it’s still ‘legal’ until they roll it up and smoke it, or sell it to someone with the intention of it being smoked.”
Side effects reported after using synthetic cannabis: irregular heartbeat, anxiety, severe paranoia, nausea, chest pains, hallucinations and seizures.
Homeless charities report clients as saying that withdrawing from legal highs gives them the same irritability associated with coming off crack cocaine or heroine.
Titch, a legal high user, says: “It just hits you like a truck, it just knocks you out. Whereas bud (weed/cannabis) you just sit and chill. I wish I could go back to my bud, because this is horrible. I don’t want it, but I’m in pain. I’m in that much pain. Shooting pains down my leg. Shooting pains up my spine. Pains in my neck and my arm.”
Compared with natural cannabis, synthetic cannabis users have reported longer withdrawal symptoms, more rapid onset but shorter duration of effects, and more rapid development of tolerance.
Synthetic cannabis was banned amid a public outcry in May 2014, at which time New Zealand bid farewell to legal highs.
“My head’s all over and I can’t think straight – now if this was bud I’d still be stressed, but I’m not like this; I’m not rattling. Do you know what? It’s horrible,” Titch continues.
It’s alleged that police have reported a spike in black market dealing of legal highs, while retailers were forced to cease trading of the products or close their doors. It’s believed that drug dealers are selling legal highs for over twice what the recommended retail price would have been.
Substance Abuse Counselor Lisa Thornton, says: “Nobody really knows what they [legal highs] are made up of and what structure they have and how they impact on the body. There’s a level of naivety around thinking that by making legal highs illegal people will be less inclined to use them.”
She goes on to explain: “If somebody is already in a situation of relative chaos in their life in general, it would be unlikely there would be a significant impact on people already using them. It’s a public health issue.”
It’s reported that shop owners will be able to apply for a licence to see these synthetic substances back on the shelves as legal highs in the coming months.
Vox pop: Public opinion on legal highs