DANGEROUS BUT LEGAL: Synthetic cannabis – available to buy in Grafton.Photo: Adam Hourigan
DANGEROUS BUT LEGAL: Synthetic cannabis – available to buy in Grafton.Photo: Adam Hourigan

'Worse symptoms than marijuana'

WHAT started as an attempt to quit cannabis ended with a Clarence Valley mother driving her hysterical daughter to the emergency room.

A young life pushed to the brink, a mother desperate and, believe it or not, the drug that caused it is totally legal.

Synthetic cannabis was supposed to help a Clar-ence Valley woman, aged 22, 'give up' marijuana.

Yesterday, the woman's mother told of driving her distraught daughter to hospital and said synthetic cannabis, available over the counter in Grafton shops, nearly drove the daughter to suicide.

The Daily Examiner learned at least two shops in Grafton sell the product, which is legal but now under parliamentary scrutiny because of its devastating impact on health.

The daughter is now undergoing treatment in a Gold Coast rehabilitation facility.

Her mother felt she had to warn others of the potential effects of the substance, sold as "herbal incense".

She said her daughter had a lengthy history of cannabis abuse and started using synthetic cannabis to try to break her addiction to marijuana about six months ago.

"I wasn't aware of how bad it was and she said she was smoking it to try to kick the habit," the mother said.

"It wasn't until she started getting hooked and becoming really verbally abusive when she couldn't get it that I realised how serious the problem was.

"We were driving along and she couldn't stop crying and I drove her to the emergency room of the hospital in Coffs Harbour.

"She said she couldn't deal with it any more and couldn't keep going.

"When we got to the hospital the nurse said synthetic cannabis was far worse than normal cannabis, the withdrawal symptoms are far more dangerous and it's more addictive."

When confronted with having to quit, the daughter asked to leave.

The mother drove her daughter back to Grafton but became so alarmed by her withdrawal symptoms, she bought her a bag of the synthetic dope in Grafton. "I was alarmed by how easy it was to buy," she said. "I think the people selling it have a lot to answer for and maybe if it was not so readily available things would not have been so bad."

The shops selling the product would not comment when approached yesterday and we have not named them to avoid advertising where it is sold.

The mother urged any shops selling synthetic cannabis to have a think about what they were doing.

"It may be a legal product but that does not make it right," she said.

Her daughter's withdrawal symptoms included stomach cramps, vomiting and hallucinations.

  • Synthetic cannabis: Can result in mental illness and psychosis

WARNING: This product is strictly for aromatherapy use ONLY.

That's the message on the pack of "herbal incense" but it doesn't stop people smoking what's known as synthetic cannabis.

Professor Michael Kassiou is part of a team at Sydney University currently researching the drug's potential health effects.

He compared taking it to playing Russian roulette because it is uncertain exactly what the drug does to people's bodies and brains.

"We don't really know how these products are manufactured and to what standard," Dr Kassiou said.

Dr Kassiou said initial animal tests on rats indicated the drugs affect the same parts of the brain as cannabis but more research was needed to identify exactly what was going on.

"The problem with synthetically created drugs is while we know they act on the cannabinoid receptors, we don't know what other parts of the brain they are affecting."

"The science is clear though, if you smoke enough cannabis for a long period of time, that can lead to psychosis and a number of other mental illnesses."

Dr Kassiou said some of the reports he had heard included detrimental effects on people's liver and central nervous system.

While Dr Kassiou made clear he did not condone the use of any illegal drugs, he said using synthetic cannabis was probably more dangerous than the real thing.

"It's more dangerous than cannabis purely because of the fact that we don't understand the exact actions of these types of compounds.

A NSW State Government parliamentary committee tabled a report on synthetic drugs on May 30.

A spokeswoman from the Attorney-General's Department said the government was taking the issue very seriously. "We will be closely looking at the recommendations of the parliamentary report with a view to further action," she said.

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