As we endure an upswing in the cycle of stories about kids and drugs, it bears noting that Frances Morton's School daze story for yesterday's Herald on Sunday is useful and worthwhile, not least because she does not press the panic button.
Morton spoke to secondary students about booze and drugs, and the picture that emerges is of a world where kids have a reasonable idea what they're doing; one where they can have a dinner-table conversation with Mum and Dad about how they took Ecstasy back in the old days. One where, at least among the students Morton met, methamphetamine is considered a "dirty" no-go drug.
Which is not to say the story isn't troubling. Sixteen year-olds should not be taking psychoactive drugs, alcohol included. That's not a moral stance, it's a medical one: there is good and substantial evidence that the use of cannabis, to take one example, in the early and mid teens increases the risk of psychosis later in life.
I have made precisely this point in conversation with my 16 year-old son, whose exposure to the idea of hits on the bong is exclusively through his older online gaming buddies: Dude, you probably will use pot at some point, and we can always talk about that, but you have to believe me that the science says it's a really dumb idea right now.
The first time we had that talk, he acknowledged the point and headed off back to his room. Parenting win! Five minutes later, he came back.
"There's this other kind of pot the guys talk about -- it's really strong but doesn't last for long …"
"Yeah -- that was it."
"Definitely talk to me before you do that."
My sons are not, of course, typical teenagers. They don't go to school and they are neurologically immune to peer pressure. There are bonuses to having Aspie kids; we don't have to worry about some of the things other parents do.
Morton's subjects seem aware that when they have a pill, it's literally not the pill that Mum and Dad might have had. The pressures of prohibition have driven MDMA out of pills, in favour of, well … who knows? It was comforting that one girl knew that she could at least do her research on TripMe. As things stand, the safest thing they can take is the ADD kid's prescription Ritalin, at $5 a tablet.
What the story doesn't say is that there can hardly be a teenager who hasn't learned from a flood of panicked news stories that they can buy synthetic cannabis at the local dairy. As Kronic king Matthew Wielenga told Jonathan Marshall for a Sunday Star Times story: "I haven't spent a cent on marketing this stuff apart from a few posters. Every time someone does a story we just get bigger and bigger. We have had literally millions in free marketing."
Marshall's story also revealed that Wielenga's partner in developing Kronic was Matt Bowden, who also profits from the business. This is where it gets a little confusing. Kronic contains JWH-018 -- the only one of the three cannabinomimetics on the market that the industry group Stanz (Social Tonics Association of New Zealand) told the expert advisory committee on drugs should be banned from sale, citing:
... issues with toxicity and abuse potential. This compound has proved unusually problematic and has a particular tendency to cause anxiety and serious adverse reactions, even when diluted in herbal smoking blends.
The committee didn't take up the advice. And Bowden -- the chair and spokesman for Stanz -- continues to put JWH-018 in the Kronic product.
As you may know from the news reports, there has been a spate of emergency admissions related to Kronic. Compared to alcohol, Kronic's toxicity is very, very low: admissions typically relate to transient anxiety and increased heart rate. Users are generally calmed down and sent home, but in a few cases the tachycardia and increased blood pressure seem to be genuinely dangerous, especially for first-time users. One of TripMe's members has even gone to so far as encouraging users to harden up and deal with the odd panic attack rather than adding to the ED statistics and spoiling it for everyone else. A "senior member" chips in:
I cannot see why Kronic is being sold willingly by dairies apart from making an extra 20 or so $. But at what cost? Selling legals to minors still carries the same effect as alcohol and ciggies.
A solid reason they shouldnt be sold to kids is the fact this buzz is entirely different to bud. How are you supposed to be capable of handling such a strong(depending on product) buzz at like 13-14? The fact that the kids are being stupid enough to not only smoke it but then do bloody ignorant shit ie 'lets blaze at school no one can tell its just legals anyway.'
I can understand that a lot of people who try it and think that they get a really fast heartbeat and then panic which leads them to think a whole different manner of things are going on when they just need to realise that they are in control of themselves. It's funny how easy deep controlled breathing can sort you out.
I enjoy legals quite a fair bit but seeing young kids trashed just cannot be the way to go.
Another TripMe user has published a fairly thorough user's guide to the products available. It's worth noting that synthetic cannabis products have been on sale in New Zealand for nearly a decade, from specialist outlets. The problem has really arisen through Kronic's owners pushing it into suburban dairies and, more recently, the priceless promotion of panicky media stories.
On Friday, Close Up was in full moral panic mode, and it was disorientating to see Peter Dunne (looking quite psychedelic himself) making the case that knee-jerk responses weren't the right thing to do. He had actually announced that day that moves to rein in advertising and sales of cannabis substitutes would be brought forward. A longer-term solution should wait on the digestion of the Law Commission's recommendations.
It's looking like BZP all over again, with the added spice of cannabis-dealing gangs starting to get antsy as they perceive the rise of the legal substitutes cutting into their criminal proceeds. The extent to which legal supply displaces the illicit market seems worthy of further study.
But there is one thing on which old hands and even some suppliers agree: we need to get this stuff out of the hands of feckless suburban dairy owners.
They're taking a slightly different approach to legal highs in Australia -- compiling useful research and then prohibiting members of the public from seeing it. Case in point -- this review of the contents of popular legal highs, including some made in New Zealand. It comes with this warning:
This document has been prepared by the Therapeutic Goods Administrations (TGA) Regulatory Compliance Unit for use by members of the Commonwealth of Australia- Department of Health and Ageing TGA. Unauthorised possession, use, viewing, duplication of this document and/or any of its contents, by any means whatsoever, is strictly prohibited unless prior approval is obtained from the Regulatory Compliance Unit TGA
I didn't obtain permission.
I stumbled across a rather striking work of anti-drug advocacy at the weekend: Ecstasy the movie. It's a Canadian film with a Facebook page and a Twitter, and free downloads for kids who retweet it to their friends. It also weighs in with more than a little reefer madness.
The film looks like it might have some appeal to its target market -- there a bangin' soundtrack for the club kids, and one good club scene -- but having acquired and seen it, I'm not so sure.
The unnamed drug at the centre of the story ("this makes ecstasy look like child's play") has such a terrible attrition rate (the first time the little sister tags along, she tries it, vomits and is raped and impregnated by her sister's friend's bad boyfriend; then she and the boyfriend both suddenly commit suicide; and the older sister bleeds from the eyeballs; and the girlfriend flips out and starts hearing voices) that the last, plodding half hour in which the sole survivor is brought to Jesus by the hot guy from Twilight is almost unwatchably dull. It would have been more credible if they'd at least had one good night out before it all turned to shit.
But anyway, here's the trailer: