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National

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Legal high habit takes teen to rock bottom

Last updated 05:00 06/04/2014

CHARLES ANDERSON

IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ

DOWN ON HIGHS: Jesse Murray was among protestors outside R18 shop on Christchurch's Lincoln Road to protest the sale of legal highs and synthetic cannabis. Murray, 17, who is addicted to synthetic cannabis, coughs up blood all day as he says it has ripped his stomach linings and claims to have lost 30kg.

IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ

Each morning, 17-year-old Jesse Murray wakes on his cardboard mattress in Christchurch's hidden haunts and walks the streets, spitting into a white, bloodstained tissue before arriving at his destination.

His days are dictated by the opening and closing hours of the nearest legal high shop.

If he has the money, he will hand over anything between $25 and $80 a day - money he has begged for.

Despite it being illegal for him to purchase the drug because of his age, sometimes, out of sympathy, the storekeepers give it to him for free.

Jesse has been smoking synthetic cannabis for three years. He started because he thought it was "cool". But, by the time he realised how it badly it was affecting him, it was too late.

He left home in Auckland last year and moved to Christchurch to study plumbing and drainlaying, but he was kicked out of the course because of his habit. Now, Jesse is sleeping rough.

"It is killing me," he says. "I don't want to live like this."

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Yesterday, Jesse's day was dictated by something else. He made sure that he turned out in Addington as part of a nationwide protest against legal highs.

Dozens brought placards imploring the Government to legislate against all such substances.

The side-effects of synthetic cannabis and other similar products include agitation, confusion, paranoia, seizures and violent behaviour that could last from days to months, experts say.

The Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect last July after concern over the safety of legal-highs. The new legislation makes it illegal for dairies, convenience stores, liquor outlets and supermarkets to sell synthetic highs.

Retailers wanting to sell the drugs must fit certain criteria to qualify for an interim licence to research, manufacture or sell the products.

Forty-two legal-high brands have interim approval.

Jesse says he has tried to quit. "You have no no idea how hard I tried." He has lost up to 30kg - a third of his former 90kg frame - in the space of two weeks after going into withdrawals.

When he tries to stop he says he can't eat or sleep. He vomits constantly. Doctors have told him that the drugs have eaten away at his stomach lining. He cannot stop spitting up blood.

He recently visited an old friend in Auckland who broke down and cried when he saw the state of him. "He couldn't believe I was just this sack of bones."

Anyone thinking about smoking the drug should look at what his life has become.

"It's destroying our generation," Jesse says.

"They could have warned us it was addictive."

He is worried that if he tries to quit again without any support he might die on the streets. When he turns 18 in June he will try to go to Odyssey House in Auckland to get clean. "I've survived this long. What's another few months?"

- Sunday Star Times

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