During Questions Without Notice in the Australian Senate on June 22nd [Page 50], Senator Steve Fielding challenged federal Attorney-General Representative, Senator Joe Ludwig over his government’s intentions toward previously legal synthetic cannabinoid products, known quaintly as “synthetic cannabis”.
One particularly common brand is named “Kronic”. Fielding’s ignorance is telling. He refers to such products as being “sprayed with a synthetic chemical” and as such are “designed to manipulate people’s minds”. He further relays concerns about anecdotal reports, which whilst serious are not conclusive. No documentation or conclusive study is presently available leaving quantification and qualification impossible. No correction has been made for the use of other substances in conjunction with Kronic or pre-existing psychiatric conditions or symptoms. It is for the very reason we must take these reports seriously that they deserve proper scientific inquiry.
Ludwig admirably fills his time relaying the excessive reaction of W.A. in banning such preparations under the Misuse of Drugs Act (which provides for a 25 year sentence in certain cases). QLD will move to ban 15 of these products under the QLD Drugs Misuse Act. He omits that NSW is seeking to regulate “synthetic pot” at the level of heroin. One wonders at the logic of this rash action given the well documented failure of prohibition and the recent report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, damning prohibition and urging implementation of legalisation models [CNN].
More prohibition opens the way for criminals to move from growing, harvesting, preparing and packaging cannabis for transport and sale, to switch to small vials of synthetic cannabinoids. These could be added to any legal vegetable matter or herb, in unknown concentrations and mixes further compounding already known problems arising from an imbalance in cannabinoids due to hydroponic growing techniques.
ABC Lateline gave a balanced report on these developments. When NSW health minister, Kevin Humphries, describes psychotropic synthetic cannabinoid preparations as a “synthetic psychotic drug”, one can be sure he’s not speaking from a position of evidence. Still, “synthetic pot” that’s been with us for four years, will now be as illegal as heroin, in NSW. As already noted anti-drug zealot and W.A. Premier, Colin Barnett was true to form in announcing 25 year prison terms for some offences.
The fact is we don’t know the full side effects of synthetic cannabinoids ingested without supervision beyond the certainty that inhalation of any combustible material is a dire challenge to pulmonary health. We may assume confidently that psychotropic effects are similar to cannabis. And we may ask genuine questions about the effect of significantly greater concentrations of THC in synthetic concoctions both as acute and long term (or chronic – no pun) effects. Paul Dillon raises good points about the rapid rise of availability, of varieties of synthetic drugs. Paul does raise a false analogy citing a synthetic THC cannabinoid – no doubt HU-210 – referring to it being 100 times more potent that natural THC. Had he taken the time to express the need for health responses here it would have been welcome.
Indeed, we don’t know the the effects of 22% of Complimentary and Alternative Medicines in Australian pharmacies that, lacking any trial data, were fraudulently submitted as “evidence backed” and rashly added to the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods by the TGA. But there’s no rush to ban these products or to wage a War on Placebo, despite fears of adverse drug interactions or contamination with heavy metals and poisons. Regrettably, this clip has the standard file footage of unnamed researchers looking at brain scans as the voice over notes doctors concerns – despite only anecdotal stories of nasty side effects. Both good and bad effects are the same as cannabis. Sanity is provided by Alex Wodak and Robbie Swann.
Prohibition has failed splendidly, leading only to the creation of vast underworld markets. Here, we may watch it in action. I support warnings that smoking a loosely controlled herb dosed with cannabinoids is cause for caution. But removing the product from legal tax paying outlets and placing it in the hands of criminals who will now sell it as genuine cannabis – without the risks of handling genuine cannabis – is appallingly short sighted.
Ultimately, synthetic illicit drugs are here only because the certain profit provided by prohibition of already popular drugs, has empowered criminal enterprise to produce them. Perhaps it’s time we began to learn from history. I reject argument from antiquity – that humans have always used drugs and thus always will. But it’s irrefutable that without the lucrative market provided by prohibition many of todays problematic illicit drugs would not exist.
The Global War on Drugs has failed. Synopsis from The Global Commission on Drug Policy