There is a lot of misinformation in the general community about synthetic cannabis. Local business owners who sell smoking supplies in NZ are also fielding questions left, right, and centre about the product, and whether it’s a safe and legal alternative to natural cannabis. Here’s what you need to know about synthetic cannabis.

It’s Manufactured, Not Natural
Synthetic cannabis is plant material, but it has chemical compounds known as synthetic cannabinoids. These cannabinoids are put into the dried plant so that you can smoke it in the same way as cannabis. However, the plant material offers no psychoactive effect. Instead, the active ingredients are manufactured in a lab.

It’s Not Legal
Before 2014, synthetic cannabis was legal and readily available in your local dairy or supermarket. In 2013, only some low-risk varieties were able to be sold through licensed shops. By May 2014, all “legal highs” and synthetic cannabinoids were made illegal after the passing of a bill. It’s still available today, but hard to get and, of course, now banned.

It’s Different From Natural Cannabis
A question that many storeowners selling smoking supplies in NZ are asked is, how does synthetic cannabis compare to natural cannabis? Everyone knows that marijuana is a natural plant with naturally-occurring psychoactive properties. It’s the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in the marijuana that does all the work. It reacts to your brain’s CB1 receptor, which causes a change in behaviour, perception, and mood. Some people also feel more relaxed and sometimes even a little peckish!

The goal of synthetic cannabis was to achieve the same purpose, but with a legal product to get through loopholes. The difference is, the synthetic cannabinoid offers a different high and side effects which have been fatal. The figures around fatalities less clear-cut for natural cannabis.

It Has a Different Manufacturing Process
Most people know the process for creating natural cannabis because, well, it’s natural. The chemicals in synthetic cannabis mean that it differs dramatically from its natural counterpart.

In most cases, synthetic cannabinoids are imported in a powder form, dissolved into a solvent, then sprayed onto plant material. The manufacturer then dries the plant and packages it. There is no quality control, and the synthetic cannabinoid volume can differ dramatically from one batch to the next.

It Comes with Risks
There are dozens and dozens of risks associated with the use of synthetic cannabis. The fatalities are proof of that. There is no quality control, as previously stated, and they have not been tested in the same way that your average pharmaceutical drug has. The reaction from one person to the next can also be different.

The effects of using synthetic cannabis can depend on whether the user has taken other drugs, alcohol, has a medical condition, mental health problem, or something else. There is no way of knowing how someone will react to smoking synthetic drugs.

Effects Can Differ
Some people experience side effects similar to natural cannabis, but that can change from one batch to the next. With one packet, you could have an elevated mood, an altered perception, and feel relaxed. The next time, you could suffer from psychosis, anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, and paranoia.

Those who have presented to hospital emergency rooms across the country have also suffered from suicidal thoughts, violent behaviour, a rapid heart rate, and vomiting. If you’re a long-term user, you can also throw irritability, depression, and headaches into the mix.

Not everyone is going to experience every symptom, but the lack of control with the manufacturing process and inclusion of chemicals make synthetic cannabis a risky and illegal product to use.

It’s More Dangerous than Natural Cannabis
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, a United States-based organisation, and several others closer to home, synthetic cannabis is more dangerous than natural marijuana. While both cannabis and manufactured cannabis can lead to side effects, those of natural cannabis tend to be more troublesome rather than hazardous.

Drug Policy Alliance states that synthetic cannabis tends to be commonly linked with dangerous physical symptoms. There were even 16 cases of acute kidney injuries in 2012 in six U.S. states related to its use. The number of hospitilisations and fatal reactions has never been seen with marijuana.

Make an Informed Choice
Both synthetic and natural cannabis is illegal, with the fate of natural cannabis’ legality in the hands of the New Zealand public for the 2020 referendum. Knowing both are illegal, you must make an informed choice before you decide to choose either. Remember, there are laws by which every member of the community must abide.

Many store owners who sell smoking supplies in NZ will only ever recommend legal herbs, but most will promote safer, more natural products over their manufactured, chemically-enhanced counterparts. It’s crucial that you understand all the risks of any drugs before you proceed with their use.

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