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Synthetic cannabis users face tough decision

Thursday 8 May 2014 9:54 a.m.

Synthetic cannabis users will be out of luck if they try to buy the drugs legally from today.

The Government's ban on so-called legal highs came into effect at midnight. Sales skyrocketed ahead of the deadline, with users stocking up on what are now illegal substances.

But where does this leave people who may be addicted to synthetic highs? Will they continue to source their fix on the black market or switch to natural – and still illegal – marijuana?

Alternatively, might they try and quit altogether?

Ben Birks Ang, an addiction treatment specialist at Odyssey House says it's too early to tell. Some users might find the switch to marijuana difficult after using synthetics for so long, and going cold turkey from any drug is rarely easy.

"We've seen some people that have used it a couple of times and then felt that it was something they couldn't break out of; then there are some people who have used it quite a bit and have been able to stop quite easily," he said on Firstline this morning.

"The main thing that we're looking at is how we can support young people to get the right kind of treatment as early as possible, and making sure right now there are services that are able to match them, and so that there is the least impact on the young people in this country."

Mr Ang says each time a product has been banned, Odyssey House sees a "wave" of users seeking help. But with assistance, Mr Ang says most people can be weaned off synthetic marijuana.

"We've noticed that most of the people that we've been working with over the past year, particularly in the past few months leading up to this ban, have been able to stop using within the community with just a few withdrawal symptoms lasting a couple of weeks," he says.

"There have been some that have needed serious support, looking at medical monitoring for some of the more serious symptoms. But those are the ones that typically were using quite a few packets every day, and that's quite a big pattern, understandably, to try and change."

In the first quarter of the year, Auckland-based Odyssey House helped more than 200 young people with their legal high addiction. Mr Ang says the Government's outright ban on the products will give more the motivation to quit smoking drugs altogether.

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