Synthetic cannabis has been seized n a series of raids on Queensland adult shops. Photo: Supplied Commercial-type packaging feeds a perception that synthetic cannabis is safe, according to police. Photo: Supplied
It’s been described by police as a drug not fit for human consumption, so what exactly is synthetic cannabis and what makes it so dangerous?
The manufactured substance this week linked to the deaths of two men in Mackay exploded onto the Australian illicit drug scene in 2009, according to Queensland Police Detective Acting Sergeant Clay Butler.
The State Drug Squad synthetic drugs investigation specialist said the drug was manufactured in clandestine production houses, often with untested chemicals imported from overseas in powder form.
The compounds are mixed with acetone, sprayed on dried, readily available green herbs and sold in retail outlets such as adult stores and herb shops, where the drug is often packaged and marketed as a legal alternative to cannabis.
But it is far from legal, Detective Sergeant Butler said.
The chemicals used aim to mimic and often magnify the high of cannabis by stimulating the same cannabanoid receptors in the brain, he said, and though it continued to trail the drug it aims to replicate and methamphetamines in street popularity, it is no less concerning.
“These drugs are sometimes developed for medical research, some are brand new, there are no human trials and people selling the products are using the public as the guinea pigs,” he said.
“If there is an adverse reaction, they don’t care.”
The ever-changing array of the chemical compounds used also provide a challenge to health practitioners who treat those who use synthetic cannabis.
Professor Jennifer Martin,of the University of Queensland’s Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said the differing compounds used often meant doctors did not know exactly what they were dealing with.
“With standard cannabis you know what you get when you take it, but with these other chemicals you mix with a whole lot of other chemicals that switch on or off different pathways in the brain and can have a whole lot of effects on other organs,” she said.
“It could be things we use to kill animals, to get rid of weeds, there is one agent that comes from a plant used to treat cancer, so if you had enough of that, it’s enough to kill healthy cells.
“We are certainly not advocating people go out and use cannabis but the effects of synthetic cannabis can be much worse.”
Detective Sergeant Butler said there remained a perception the drug was safe, due to its initial ready availability in retail stores and commercial-type packaging.
“Those people who are selling it aren’t retailers, they are drug dealers,” he said.
“All they are interested in doing is selling the product to make money. You are buying a product that has no ingredient list, you don’t know what the potency is and you are putting your life at risk when you have no idea what you are taking.”
Professor Jake Najman, director of the Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre, said many people were looking to avoid possible legal implications of buying cannabis by purchasing a product they thought to be legal.
“What worries me is people have died, it is unlikely they would have died had they used cannabis,” he said.
“If you stop young people from using one drug, you don’t stop them from using drugs.
“The government is busily trying to put out fires but not really doing anything about the underlying problem, which is that a lot of young people experiment with drugs.
“The question is, what should we be doing to try and limit the harm and risk to them.
“We certainly don’t want anyone dying.”
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