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Community turns to Social Media to Combat Synthetic Cannabis

Community turns to Social Media to Combat Synthetic Cannabis
Social media is the secret weapon in the battle against retailers who choose to sell synthetic cannabis, it was agreed by many of the attendees at the recent public meeting held at Kuranui College.  Parents, local councillors, the police, and social and health agencies attended the meeting organised by the South Wairarapa college to discuss mounting concerns over the accessibility and the legal issues surrounding the use of synthetic cannabinoids in the local community.
Kuranui College Principal Geoff Shepherd stated that the community had a very real problem. “There is a very small minority of students who have access to these synthetic drugs and we’re seeing the residual effects of their influence during school time, which clearly impacts on these students’ learning and development. It is a community issue and we need a community strategy to combat this problem,” he said.
Care NZ Drug and Alcohol Counsellor Teresa Ahipene provided the gathering with information about the synthetic drugs, explaining that students reported that they felt the effects were stronger than cannabis, with worse side effects which may last for many months after the user had stopped taking the drugs. 
Users are understood to display a dissociative state, which ranges from a detachment from reality and loss of time and place, to mild psychosis and aggression.  Other effects include a dry mouth, rapid pulse rate, itchy skin, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, agitation, anxiety and in many cases, severe paranoia and phobic behaviour.
Mrs Ahipene highlighted the fact that these products are chemical in nature and are not intended for human consumption. “They are sold in really attractive, colourful packages so they can be very appealing to young people. There’s very little information available as to the long-term effects of their use, so when young people are choosing to use these drugs they are putting their physical and mental health at risk and we don’t know if these effects are permanent,” she explained.
“However, it’s reassuring to see that many of our young people are choosing not to get involved or are discontinuing their use because of the risks and the impact seen on their peers,” she added. Health care professionals at the meeting agreed that social media appeared to be one way in which young people shared their negative experiences and their thoughts around the risks.
The drugs are often marketed as herbal incense or as a herbal smoking product and are therefore perfectly legal.  However, it is illegal for those youngsters under 18 years of age to purchase them, so the police do at least have some power to prosecute and fine retailers who sell directly to children. This does not prevent older people from buying and supplying to underage users.
Several members of the meeting felt that because the drugs are very cheap and sold in dairies, youngsters believe that they must be O.K., so a crucial priority for communities is to remove their accessibility.
As synthetic cannabinoids are not covered under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Temporary Class Drug Notices are currently the only way to regulate their sale. The notices are issued on substances rather than the commercial product, meaning that all products that contain those substances effectively become banned. However, as soon as one substance is banned, the synthetic cannabis manufacturers change the ingredients slightly and remarket the product.
This is set to change in August when a new body, the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority, begins supervising a new legislation requiring manufacturers to prove that any psychoactive substance is no more than “low risk” before it is sold. This will involve pre-clinical and human clinical testing to be paid for by the manufacturers themselves and is estimated to cost in the region of $2 million per substance.  They would also have to list their ingredients, standard doses and provide health and safety messages.
Mr Shepherd, as Principal of the local secondary college, has already written to the dairies in the region which are allegedly selling the drugs. He asked them to consider the risks posed to young people and asked them not to stock these products.
Featherston Councillor Solitaire Robertson suggested that the region should aim to become synthetic cannabis free.  A very effective method appears to be in the use of Facebook posts. A number of parents explained how they were spreading the word by sharing posts about individual retailers who are apparently selling the drugs. This ‘name and shame’ tactic is aimed at “hurting these businesses in the pockets”. Community Constable Dean Fawcett said a positive method would be to support those retailers who display the “We choose not to sell synthetic cannabis” posters that are distributed by the police. Other ideas were to form a parent support group and hold information sessions with other community groups.
Those present were delighted that people had made the effort to attend the meeting, but felt there were many more people in the community who may have been put off by the public forum. “We need to get the message to the youth in our community and this needs to be done through a different forum, perhaps through using our young community leaders, such as our local rugby club captains or young musicians who have a good rapport and will be listened to by our youngsters,” suggested Mr Shepherd.
Mrs Ahipene said it was also important that parents ensure that they are aware of the possible impact of these drugs on their children and that they had conversations with their children at home so that they were able to ask questions and know where to go to find help.
If a parent requires more information on where to obtain advice or help, they should contact their child’s school counsellor, check out www.carenz.org.nz


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