Rotorua and Auckland have been highlighted as the two places nationwide that need most help with the fallout from synthetic cannabis abuse.

Massey University drug researcher, Dr Chris Wilkins, said while there were many more towns and cities in New Zealand that would benefit from assistance in dealing with the psychoactive substance fallout, Rotorua and Auckland were the two places to have deaths possibly attributed to use of the drugs.

"Until toxicology reports are done and results released, it is hard to categorically say people have died due to psychoactive substance abuse," Dr Wilkins said.

"But I think the time taken to have these tests done is contributing to the problem."

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Dr Wilkins says better systems to collaborate and communicate were needed to ensure people were made aware of a "bad batch".

"It appears there have been batches or clusters of people reacting very badly to psychoactive substances. It would help if the batch could be tested quickly and the results used to warn other users of what they are smoking.
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"What happened in Auckland happened at least two weeks ago. I'm sure much of the testing and analysing would have been carried out and I would think a compound or compounds would have been identified.

"Agencies who are dealing with the problem should also be collaborating. Police are there to arrest the manufacturers, the health sector is often dealing with the users and other agencies would be dealing with the welfare of families.

"It would be helpful if these people got together to give an accurate portrait as to what is happening in our communities. Perhaps that would be the best warning for users."

Dr Wilkins said because new compounds were constantly being used in the manufacture of the psychoactive substances, little was known about the characteristics, the potency and the side-effects of each batch.

"What is known is today's psychoactive substances are [more] potent than THC."

THC is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis.

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"Psychoactive substances attach themselves to the same receptors in the body as THC does. Because the substances are so much more powerful, there can be other effects that people have not experienced before.

"And because of the potency, the risk of dependency is also much higher. It is harder to stop smoking these substances than it is to stop smoking cannabis."

Last year Mr Wilkins called for the adoption of a not-for-profit model for cannabis, allowing regulated cannabis products to be sold legally.