A mother who described herself as a "hermit" until a year ago is the central figure in a grassroots nationwide protest against synthetic cannabis set to take place in 22 towns from Whangarei to Invercargill this Saturday.

Julie King, 39, has four teenage children aged 19 to 13 - but unlike other parents who have spoken out on the issue, none of her children have used synthetic cannabis.

Instead, the Tokoroa resident feels she is on a "mission" to help young people who have taken the drugs because they felt as miserable as she did until a year ago.

She was abused in her own teenage years and lived on the streets at times in West Auckland.


She has been married for 20 years but has continued to suffer periodic bouts of depression. Two and a half years ago she tried to commit suicide.

"I drank enough coolant to do it, waited some hours and when breathing became difficult later that night, I told my husband I needed to go to the hospital," she said.

Her kidneys failed and she almost died. She experienced a spiritual encounter in hospital which kept her alive, but still depressed.

"I was like a hermit. I didn't want to know anybody, I didn't want to know my own family. I basically lived in my room and moped," Mrs King said.

Then she heard stories about the effects of synthetic cannabis and took a lone stand against it outside a Tokoroa dairy that was selling it.

She received death threats, but also huge community backing which has also helped her to set up a twice-weekly soup kitchen in the town.

Last month, she took the campaign to ban synthetic cannabis nationwide, orchestrating organisers in 22 towns through a Facebook event page called "Aotearoa bans the sale and distribution of legal highs in our country".

"I realised that that was my mission, and also to help the needy," Mrs King said.


She believes her experience has given her an insight into why people take synthetic drugs.

"When you lose hope you don't care. You just destroy yourself. You will do destructive things," she said.

"I believe a lot of these people are looking for something. They turn to these drugs for a little bit of happiness because they have no hope in their lives."