SYNTHETIC drugs available over the counter or online are harming people on a scale equal to crystal methamphetamine, paramedics warn.
In the past month alone there have been a dozen cases of patients becoming violently ill after using the legal products.
In one case ambulance officers had to induce paralysis in a man who had become too aggressive for paramedics to treat.
Veteran clinical support paramedic John Wormald told The Standard such cases were increasing.
“In the last month we’ve probably taken about 12 patients to hospital — in one case there were six patients involving vomiting and diarrhoea after consumption of synthetic cannabis cookies ... they ended up being violently ill all at once,” Mr Wormald said.
“There were two other cases where they were quite agitated and aggressive and they had to be managed and sedated and taken to hospital. And sedation is not taken lightly. It’s meant to be a last resort.”
The senior paramedic said both ice and synthetic cannabis caused euphoria, agitation and paranoia.
“In terms of the symptoms of ice and the synthetic cannabis, the symptoms are very similar.”
The phenomenon is also raising concerns about the safety of paramedics.
“It’s the agitation and the aggressiveness that can develop and that could cause injuries,” Mr Wormald said.
The long-term effects of the products aren’t known.
Warrnambool police Senior Sergeant Shane Keogh said the rise in synthetic cannabis had been masked by an overall increase in drug offences.
“We have noticed an increase in the prevalence of ice and cannabis in the last six months,” Senior Sergeant Keogh said.
“As for the effects of ice and cannabis, the symptoms are often similar to each other, including paranoia.
“It’s definitely a health problem.”
In December the state government rolled out new legislation outlawing the substance “Marley” responsible for placing people in intensive care.
But manufacturers are able to circumnavigate laws by constantly changing chemical ingredients used to simulate tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Western District Drug and Alcohol Service (WRAD) chief executive Geoff Soma echoed concerns about the lack of control over the products and said agencies were uncertain on what steps to take.
“Because it’s not a controlled substance, the jury’s still out on what we’re going to do with it,” Mr Soma said.
He issued a stark warning to would-be users saying although the products were legal, “deaths have been associated with it”.
“It’s obvious that it’s evident in the community and there’s a huge variety of it,” he added.
“The government needs to look at the legislation around it.”
Senior Sergeant Keogh urged anyone with information about the products to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or to contact the Western District Drug and Alcohol Service on 1300 009 723 to seek recovery help.