Synthetic cannabis is the latest target in the war on drugs being fought in Australia, but experts say a ban could send it underground and onto the black market.
The drug has been legally sold in tobacconists and adult stores for four years under names like Kronic, K2 incense and Spice.
Synthetic cannabis is made from medicinal herbs like dimiana, sprayed with psychoactive chemicals. On some packaging it is “fragrance oil” and some products are marked as incense and “not for human consumption”.
Governments became concerned when it began turning up among workers on Australian mine sites, but was undetectable in drug tests.
One after the other states are outlawing the drug, but Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation president Alex Wodak says more evidence is needed to prove drugs like Kronic are harmful.
“It is very low levels of evidence. It is really nothing more than anecdotal… and when parliaments are passing legislation you want something more than anecdote,” he said.
One potentially dangerous side effect to banning Kronic is that users have already begun panic-buying and stockpiling the drug.
The legal market is drying up, and Robbie Swan from the national adult retail and entertainment association – or EROS – says it will go underground.
“All of those places who were selling it legally, making sure that miners weren’t getting it and paying taxes and all that sort of stuff, those people will give it away,” she said.
“What will happen is that people who don’t care how old people are when they buy it will sell it.
“People who don’t pay taxes will get hold of it and Australia will be the poorer. I mean it is a no-brainer. It is an absolute no-brainer.”
Under the radar
In Western Australia the penalties for supplying the drug range to 25 years in jail, and in New South Wales it is being treated the same way as heroin.
New South Wales Mental Health Minister Kevin Humphries is an opponent of synthetic cannabis and he says it arrived in Australia under the radar.
“We don’t really know in detail what the effects and what the side effects of these drugs are,” he said.
The known effects and strengths vary from euphoria and relaxation, while paranoia, nausea, high blood pressure and hallucinations are also possible.