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Mixed reaction to legal high ban

By Lincoln Tan, Anna Leask

Case study - Mixed reaction to Government u-turn on banning synthetic cannabis.

The mother

Parents of young legal-high users were applauding the move to ban them last night.

One mother has watched two of her sons battle addiction to synthetic cannabis for five years and spoke to the Herald about the impact it has had.

"These drugs are appalling, highly, highly addictive, you only need look at a young person on them to know how bad they are," said the woman, who did not want her name published to protect her sons' privacy.

"It took my son 15 seconds to react to having cold water thrown in his face. The withdrawals cause aggression, stomach problems, etc, and the drugs themselves cause breathing difficulties to the extent that a doctor has my son on asthma medication."

She said she brought both of her sons up knowing the "realities" of drug addiction, especially the long-term effects of marijuana.

"They stayed away from that and got addicted to this legal poison instead," she said.

"They would have been better on marijuana and I'm very anti that and alcohol - so that's saying a lot. I've watched too many lives ruined. This stuff is like smoking commercial insecticide."

Another mother said the announcement was "great news".

"My son has been taking these, stealing to fund his addiction and failing to buy food every week.

"He gets psychotic on these."

A third mother also contacted the Herald, pleased to hear the substances would be banned.

"I would like to say that banning legal highs is awesome news. My son had been taking these for a while, it had changed his personality into a horrible person and was destroying our family," she said.

"He was using this stuff throughout the night as he said it helped him sleep. He became violent, a liar and stole from his own family. What this was doing to his health was unbelievable - it made him vomit often and also caused seizures.

"He is one of the lucky ones and woke up to what it had done to him after being admitted into hospital. He has friends that are also addicted to it."

The former user

Blair Marsh was introduced to the legal high Illusion in 2012 when he started a new job. The 27-year-old Dunedin man became addicted "instantly" and only gave up when forced to choose between the drug and his partner and four young children.

"A friend I started working with smoked that stuff and I got into it. We were smoking it all the time after work - every time we got a chance basically," he said.

"I got hooked on it. I smoked it every day. I couldn't go a day without it and I put my family second.

"When I was high I would eat a lot and when I wasn't on the legals I wouldn't eat at all. I would also be a zombie and fall asleep anywhere - even if it was standing up. My speech was always slurry when I was high and no one could understand what I would be saying.

"My family suffered the most as I would sell our belongings just to get my next packet or fix."

After his workmate was found dead in a Dunedin park, the result of ingesting a lethal combination of legal highs and solvents including butane, his partner gave him an ultimatum.

"My partner said 'choose - it's either your kids or this stuff'. I had to get off it, I was going to lose my family," Mr Marsh said.

He has not used legal highs for more than two years now, but still suffers the effects.

"I have depression, I snap at little things ... I don't have any physical effects, it's mental and psychological. I'm starting to get better but it's still affecting me after two years."

He was thrilled to hear that legal highs would soon be banned - something he has been rallying for since his mate died. "I am pleased that they are finally listening to the people of New Zealand. It should have been done sooner.

"It's very easy to get hooked, I was hooked basically after the first puff. I couldn't function without it - it was that bad. People don't know the effects it has. It's very scary, if I'd have known what it would do to me I wouldn't have touched it at all. It's such a bad thing to have in New Zealand.

"I am now a better person for not being on this stuff."


The supplier

Those on the front line of the legal-high business are worried about their business, job losses and people turning to illegal drugs as a result of the ban.

Himanshu Mittal, 29, accounts manager for Shosha, which has four outlets in Auckland, said it was "almost certain" that some of the 15 staff would be losing their jobs.

"About 60 per cent of our business is from legal highs, so when it is banned how are we going to sustain the business or even all our staff?" said Mr Mittal.

"We have abided by the law since we opened three years ago, and now we are just victims of a political game in an election year."

Mr Mittal said he spent most of yesterday on the phone talking with suppliers and his other branch managers about what to do with the remaining stock.

Another operator on K Rd, who did not want to be named, said he had received several telephone requests from customers to "bulk buy" following news of the ban.

"Two weeks is an extremely short time, we have to find a way to get rid of our stock and customers want to stock up," he said.

One user, a former cannabis addict, said he would turn back to the illegal drug should this ban go ahead. "Legal highs have been my ticket out, it's cheap and safe, but what choice do you have when that's taken away?" he said.

- NZ Herald

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