Why is synthetic cannabis killing Kiwis more than anyone else in the world?

"Frittering", that is, having a seizure while using synthetic cannabis, is normal in Rohan Bahram's world.

He's watched it happen to others, seen them come through unscathed and thought nothing of it.

Until just a few weeks ago, when it happened to him.

Rohan, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday, has lived to tell the tale – unlike 20 other Kiwis, this year, who have not.

Their deaths are puzzling.

Professor Michelle Glass, from the department of pharmacology at Auckland University says synthetic cannabinoids rarely cause clusters of deaths, the way they have in New Zealand – even though the drug is distributed around the world.

"We don't yet know what's causing these deaths here," says Professor Glass, who studies the effects of cannabinoids on the brain.

"It could be the drug itself, but most likely it's something being added to it, or it's an interaction with other drugs being taken by individuals."

Rohan who lives in Feilding with his family, says he hears on the street that the drug, imported from China, is being "cut" with other toxic substances, like petrol and insecticide to make it stronger.

Asked why anyone would knowingly use a substance that could include those ingredients, he answers: "because they're addicted".

In the first half of this year Police say they seized six kilogrammes of synthetic cannabinoid powder at the border – enough to manufacture around 40 thousand three gram bags. That doesn't seem to have stopped supply.

St John Ambulance say they continue to respond to around 60 emergency call-outs around the country every week, sometimes with tragic outcomes.

- By Sunday reporter Janet McIntyre

'Dying for a high' - SUNDAY TVNZ 1 tonight at 7.30 PM or later on OnDemand.

Sunday reporter Janet McIntyre talks to Rohan Bahram who was rushed to hospital after using synthetic cannabis. Source: Sunday

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