Last updated 13:00 02/04/2013
A Nelson man says kicking his $200-a-week legal high habit landed him in intensive care.
Jed Scott-Smith was "freaked out" and thought he might die when he was admitted to the Nelson Hospital intensive care unit with symptoms of nausea and dizziness last Tuesday. He says the symptoms came on after he stopped smoking synthetic cannabis products, or "legal highs".
The unemployed 23-year-old, who was discharged on Thursday after being treated for severe dehydration, said he now wanted to warn New Zealanders to stay away from unsafe, but legal, drugs.
Cannabis substitutes have been causing problems around the country with health professionals warning they are highly dangerous, causing some users to become disoriented, aggressive and to develop psychiatric problems.
Mr Scott-Smith said he had been smoking cannabis regularly but wanted to kick the habit.
"I wanted to give it up and get a job and do something with my life, so I started smoking the legal stuff."
For three months, Mr Scott-Smith spent about $30 a day on "legal highs", which he smoked every day through a bong with friends, who also had expensive daily habits, he said.
He said they would buy two or three bags of AK47, The Boss, and-or Kryptonite (legal marijuana analogues), every day from dairies.
Mr Scott-Smith said he came to realise the products were a waste of money and wanted to get on with his life, so he stopped smoking.
The next day he woke up in a sweat, feeling nauseous. By 10pm he was vomiting uncontrollably. Still sick the following day, he took himself to the Nelson Hospital accident and emergency department, where he waited six hours before doctors assessed him and sent him to the ICU.
"They said it was a good thing I came along.
"They said my kidney was so dry it was about to crap out and my heart wasn't beating right, I was so dehydrated."
He said doctors fitted him with wires and needles, and pumped 12 "drip bags" of fluid into his body. "It was horrible," Mr Scott-Smith said, feeling lucky to be alive.
"As long as I was on it I didn't feel sick, nauseous, or anything, but as soon as I came off it my body turned."
Hospital staff told Mr Scott-Smith it was not uncommon for them to see patients with symptoms caused or exacerbated by legal highs, although his condition was the most severe they had dealt with, he said.
Since leaving hospital, Mr Scott-Smith said he has quit cigarettes and warned his mates to "stay away" from the legal cannabis substitutes. He was still suffering from a raw dry throat.
"It's completely put me off smoking anything, ciggies or whatever."
Mr Scott-Smith said synthetic drugs, the active ingredients of which were unknown to most consumers, had become popular in Nelson in recent times as an alternative to cannabis, which had at least been around and known about for years.
"Everyone's started to call [legal highs] "fakies" because you can get it at the shop and pass your drugs tests and that, but it's not good."
He said the "fake" varieties he and his friends bought were about 10 times stronger than cannabis, "way worse".
"You shouldn't even be allowed to smoke it, it's ridiculous. I just want it banned."
Legislation regulating the sale of legal highs will be introduced in August, requiring manufacturers and distributors to prove their products are safe before they are allowed on shelves.
Nelson MP Nick Smith said he was concerned by the prevalence of synthetic drugs.
He said it was not clear whether the new regulations would close a legal loophole in which synthetic drugs were marketed as "not for human consumption".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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