Synthetic cannabis addiction and withdrawal treatment guide

Thursday May 8, 2014

​Canterbury experts have developed a guide to help health care professionals in the community treat a predicted increase in people withdrawing from synthetic cannabinoid addiction.

The guide is a direct response to the Government's amendment of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013. From midnight last night all interim approved psychoactive substances were withdrawn from the market. It is now illegal to sell these substances and none can be sold until they have gone through an approval process, which includes thorough testing to prove low risk of harm. 

Dr Paul Gee, Christchurch Hospital emergency and toxicology expert, says he welcomes the changes to the Act but warns regular users of synthetic cannabis may experience some unpleasant side effects when they stop using these substances. 

"Common symptoms of withdrawal can include restlessness, irritability, agitation, headaches, mood swings, poor appetite, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting," Dr Gee says.

"Most users should be able to manage detox at home with advice from their family doctor.  The Christchurch Hospital Emergency Department can assist with the emergency care of patients experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. Requests for formal detox are coordinated through local Alcohol and Drug services."

Dr Gee says people planning to stop regular cannabinoid use should seek advice from their General Practice team.

Dr Alfred Dell'Ario, Canterbury and West Coast DHB Clinical Director of Specialist Mental Health Alcohol and Other Drug Services, says withdrawal symptoms can vary from mild to extreme and last from hours to weeks.

"Most people can cope with mild withdrawal by knowing what to expect, taking extra care of themselves (such as resting and drinking water) and we can provide advice on ways to help people who are agitated and having problems sleeping," Dr Dell'Ario says.

"However, people experiencing significant withdrawals including violence, psychosis, suicidal thoughts or anything suggesting significant mood or psychotic illness should be referred to the Psychiatric Emergency Service (PES)."  The PES contact details are (03) 364 0482 or 0800 920 092.

The Canterbury DHB guide is currently being distributed around the region and is available on our website

Common synthetic cannabinoid withdrawal symptoms:

Restlessness

 

Irritability

Agitation

 

Sleep problems

 

Low mood

 

Heavy sweating

 

Anxiety

 

Headaches

 

Low energy

 

Poor concentration

 

Mood swings

 

Vomiting

 

Diarrhoea

Aches and pains

 

Nausea

 

Low appetite

 

Craving drugs

 

 

 

More extreme symptoms:

Depression

 

Hallucinations

 

Paranoia

 

Racing heart

 

Suicidal thoughts

 

Anger

 

Ongoing diarrhoea and vomiting

Aggression and violence

 

Confusion and memory problems
 

 

Page last reviewed: 08 May 2014
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