The New Zealand city of Christchurch has seen at least 10 synthetic cannabis overdoses in the last two days, according to media reports. Hospital officials report the victims were stricken separately and had come from different areas of the city. Christchurch is New Zealand’s third largest city with a population of about 370,000 and is located on the country’s South Island.
The 10 overdose victims were all taken to Christchurch Hospital for treatment. Dr. Mark Gilbert, one of the physicians treating the patients at the hospital, said that it appeared there would not be any deaths from the rash of synthetic cannabinoid overdoses.
“These 10 will probably be ok but certainly some of them have gambled with their life and there is still some critically unwell people in the Intensive Care Unit so we can’t guarantee that they’ll live,” Gilbert said.
All 10 people who suffered overdoses had taken either AMB-FUBINACA or AB, synthetic cannabinoids that have been tied to several deaths on New Zealand’s North Island. Gilbert warned that smoking even small amounts of synthetic cannabinoids could be very risky.
“Synthetic cannabis is a very dangerous drug, there’s no safe level to smoke and we strongly advise, particularly at the moment where there seems to be a bad batch in Christchurch, that people stay away from smoking even small amounts of this,” he said.
Detective Inspector Greg Murton confirmed reports that Christchurch police had been visiting known drug dealers in an effort to get the dangerous drugs off the streets of the city. Murton did not say if the source of the synthetic cannabis had been identified.
Frightening Effects From Synthetic Cannabinoids
One user of synthetic cannabinoids, identified as Parr, told a New Zealand media outlet how the drug how changed his life.
“I used to see all my mates smoking it, I walked around and put them down about it and then I tried it and now I’m f***… I’m a different person then what I used to be, hitting and that, hitting my wife… I hate the drug,” Parr said.
A Christchurch paramedic noted that some patients who have overdosed on synthetic cannabinoids can become violent, saying “it was nearly every second patient we picked up, paramedics get punched, kicked in the head and knocked out.”
Treating the overdose victims successfully was sometimes difficult.
“It was a lot of seizing and no antidotes, it took a lot of sedatives to stop them from seizing and sometimes you couldn’t,” the paramedic said. “You just drive them while they’re seizing an that’s where the deaths happen, their brains get no oxygen and they’re just brain dead.”
Are Harsher Penalties Coming?
Dr. Paul Quigley, an emergency department physician at Wellington Hospital, said perhaps synthetic cannabinoids should be a Class A drug with steeper penalties, although he admitted it was an imperfect solution.
“That means we punish the users for having possession of it, it is a criminal offense,” Quigley said. “That’s not what these people need, they are already dispossessed and on the edge of society. We’re a bit stuck.”
Quigley believes that synthetic cannabinoid dealers should be charged with manslaughter, saying “we have clear evidence the drug leads to death.”