Counsellors are encouraging some synthetic cannabis addicts to smoke the real thing after seeing teens becoming a "total mess" by climbing out of moving cars, suffering hallucinations and seizures.
They also say they are anecdotally aware someone has died as a result of consuming psychoactive substances.
The revelations are contained in Western Bay of Plenty District Council psychoactive substances policy stakeholders meeting report.
BOP Addiction Services, which comes under the district health board, and Te Puna Hauora, a community mental health service, said in the report the number of people seeking help was small but their problems were "significant" and included hallucinations, seizures and impulsivity, including climbing out of moving cars.
Addiction services dealt with three to four people per month for detoxification while Te Puna Hauora saw between two and five young people or children per month, the report said.
The report states: "They note that 16 to 17-year-olds are 'a total mess' and in fact recommend that they use cannabis in preference to synthetic cannabis. Anecdotally they are aware of a death as a result of consuming psychoactive substances."
Most people seeking help had used cannabis but switched to synthetics most probably because they were legal and could not be detected in work-place drug tests.
BOP Addiction Services and Te Puna Hauora did not respond to Bay of Plenty Times questions in time for today's edition.
Mount Maunganui GP Dr Tony Farrell agreed natural cannabis was safer than legal highs.
Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust director Tommy "Kapai" Wilson said the best option was not to take any drug but he also believed synthetic cannabis was worse than natural cannabis.
Katikati resident Anne Bowling, who has spearheaded the town's response to legal highs, was at the meeting and said she was "filled with horror" by the "level of social carnage" she believed would occur if synthetic cannabis could be sold in the family-focused town centre.
She yesterday distributed a petition to get the council to agree to an exclusion zone which would mean legal highs could not be sold in half of the Katikati CBD.
The stakeholders report has been tabled to councillors, who have adopted a draft psychoactive substances policy which opens for submissions today.
The draft policy restricts the location of premises selling psychoactive products to the Te Puke and Katikati CBDs between 9am and 5pm Monday to Saturday.
Shops can be no closer than 750m from each other and 100m from educational facilities, libraries and medical centres.
Katikati's Bamboo Barn owner, one of the few shops licensed to sell legal highs, said she would not be able to operate under the draft policy because it was outside the CBD but the owner said her customers preferred the more discreet location.
She was working to start her own petition recording the age of her customers and their views on the matter.