In Auckland, New Zealand, officials are dealing with a big problem: addiction to legal highs among the country’s young people. The scope of the problem was easily seen out front of a local head shop in Auckland on Good Friday night. The shop, which had been closed all day for the holiday, was scheduled to reopen at midnight. Young people began congregating outside in anticipation of the reopening. By one o’clock, there were approximately 100 people in the queue.
The big problem right now seems to be synthetic cannabis. This is a drug that is incredibly powerful and one that is creating many addicts who move on to stronger drugs. The Auckland City Mission, which handles drug addiction issues in the country’s most populous city, recently told a local news station as many as 90% of the young people coming through detox have used synthetic cannabis.
Officials at the Mission believe that addiction to synthetic cannabis will quickly become a more serious problem than methamphetamine. That’s pretty extraordinary. But what is more alarming is the fact that synthetic cannabis users are willing to go to great lengths to get their drug of choice; they often appear to be more aggressive than those who smoke natural marijuana. Something in the synthetic drug has a stronger effect on the brain that heightens addiction potential.
‘Legal’ a Misnomer
New Zealand is not alone in struggling with the synthetic drug problem. The same problem exists in most industrialised nations – including the UK. There are a number of underlying problems that need to be dealt with if we are to get control of the so-called ‘legal’ highs. The most pressing issue is the false assumption that these products truly are legal.
The truth is that legal highs are only ‘legal’ because they are sold as bath salts or plant food. Nearly all of them are illegal for human consumption. Head shops that sell the products are doing so in a way that intentionally skirts the law; they know customers are not using what they are purchasing to feed their plants or bathe with. They know the synthetic products are being smoked, swallowed, and shot up intravenously.
Governments around the world are now looking at ways to regulate these products more tightly or, when appropriate, ban them altogether. For example, the UK government classified mephedrone as a class B drug a couple of years ago. That makes it illegal to possess, sell, or give to someone else.
The other problem officials have to face is the fact that young people mistakenly believe that legal highs are harmless because they are sold over the counter at the local head shop. Moreover, if someone believes a drug is harmless, you can rest assured they are going to use it without caution. That’s the same reason so many people drink irresponsibly. They do not think it will harm them.
Unfortunately, legal highs are anything but harmless. Hospitals are seeing more and more emergency admissions due to overdoses of legal high substances. They are also seeing emergencies involving impure products that poisoned those who took them. The fact remains that legal highs can kill you at any time. They are not worth the risk.
Keep in mind that these substances are manufactured by people who are not interested in your health or well-being. They are interested in making money. What’s more, you do not even know who they are. When you buy synthetic cannabis and other legal highs, you are trusting that a stranger in a dark room has not put something dangerous in his or her formula.