Cannabis referendum: Ex-synthetic drug user tells MPs to 'pull their heads out of their backsides' and legalise cannabis

A former synthetic drug user is frustrated to hear the drug that turned him into a monster is back on the streets, saying if cannabis was legal it wouldn't be. 

Scientists on Tuesday said AMB-FUBINACA, a synthetic cannabinoid up to 100 times stronger than natural cannabis, had been detected at a number of locations across the country, after a year-long absence. 

Between 2017 and 2019 AMB-FUBINACA - a compound developed by pharma giant Pfizer, but abandoned before it was tested on humans - was linked to around 70 deaths.

Figures obtained by Newshub show a steady stream of callouts to St John this year, with 22 in June alone.

Former user Scottie Mackrell says it makes him emotional knowing people are still suffering like he did. He told Newshub it could have killed him.

"I was lying in bed and I just felt like the gates were closing and I was about to die. The darkest time was looking at the faces of my family, who looked disgusted at me and what I'd done to myself." 

St John figures show they attended an average of 15.5 synthetic drug-related callouts a month in 2019. In the six months to June, the average was 15 - but there was a drop in March and April, which the ambulance service says is potentially due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

In May there were 20 and June, 22. 

Mackrell says synthetic cannabinoids are nothing like cannabis, and is calling on Kiwis to vote 'yes' in the upcoming referendum on recreational use of the latter.

"Every single politician should pull their head out of their backside. Drugs like this should not be on the street - once you legalise cannabis...  all these other things should disappear."

In the meantime, anyone struggling with addiction should do what they can to get help before it's too late, Mackrell says. 

"It just riles me up to think about it, to be honest. Don't be afraid to ask for help... it's a dead-end road." 

Two prominent drug experts this week also called for legalisation. University of Otago addiction specialist Doug Sellman said on Tuesday cannabis is orders of magnitude safer than AMB-FUBINACA - the latter closer to the likes of heroin and methamphetamine in the danger it poses. 

Because the amount needed for a high is so small, any miscalculation in preparing the dose or in the manufacturing process can have devastating consequences. 

And Massey University drug researcher Chris Wilkins told The AM Show on Wednesday people have been tricked into believing synthetic drugs were "just cannabis".

"If you look at countries that have more liberal laws as to natural cannabis, you really don't get these synthetic cannabinoids," said Dr Wilkins.

"When I go to international conferences, they're really amazed about how many deaths we've had related to synthetic cannabinoids, because they just don't get it. I think it is a factor to consider." 

Like Mackrell, he believes most synthetic cannabis users would rather just smoke the real thing, of which there have been no confirmed overdose deaths in history.