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Synthetic drugs

'legal highs', herbal highs, new and emerging drugs

Synthetic drugs are products containing chemical substances artificially developed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs like cannabis, cocaine and methamphetamine.

They come in the form of powders, pills and dried herbs that have been soaked in synthetic chemicals. They are often sold online and through adult stores and tobacconists.

These drugs are often promoted or sold as if they are harmless and are called names like herbal highs, party pills, herbal ecstasy or bath salts.

Many new psychoactive substances are illegal because of the potential risk of harm they pose.

Source: NSW Health

How common is the use of synthetic drugs?

The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that 0.4% of Australians aged 14 and over have ever tried any type of emerging psychoactive substances (EPS), while 0.4% used EPS in the year preceding the survey. The 2013 Survey was the first to collect data on use of emerging psychoactive substances (EPS). EPS is a term used to describe drugs that are relatively new to the recreational drug market and have mind-altering effects similar to conventional illicit drugs (including those known as meow meow, kronic and BZP) (NDARC 2013).

Key findings of the survey

  • In 2013, 1.2% of the population (about 230,000 people) had used synthetic cannabinoids in the last 12 months, and 0.4% (about 80,000 people) had used another psychoactive substance such as mephedrone.
  • While the greater majority of synthetic cannabis users had also used a traditional illicit drug, a small proportion (4.5%) had only used synthetic cannabis in the previous 12 months.

Synthetic drugs and the law

In September 2013 the NSW Goverment introduced changes to the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 to prohibit the manufacture, supply and advertising of psychoactive substances (colloquially known as synthetic drugs).

According to the Minister for Fair Trading:

"NSW will adopt Schedule 9 of the Commonwealth Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons, making it an offence to sell, manufacture, supply and possess any Schedule 9 substance.

These offences will be added to the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985. Penalties include up to two years imprisonment, more than $2,000 in fines or both for the manufacture or supply of these substances.

The penalty for possession for Schedule 9 drugs will be set at up to 12 months imprisonment, more than $2,000 in fines or both.

The new offence provisions will not apply to substances already listed in Schedule 1 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985."

The bill was assented on 24/09/2013 - and became Act No 70 of 2013 (GG. No. 118, 27/09/2013, p. 4190).

Previous changes to the law

On June 10 2013 the NSW Government announced an interim product safety ban on a range of synthetic drugs, including cannabinoids and bath salts under Section 109 of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).