Kronic: a lesson in why we shouldn’t just rely on legislation and drug testing

By Steve Allsop*
Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

Organic cannabis consists of many cannabinoids, some of which have been explored for their potential medicinal properties. In this process of exploration, a number of synthetic cannabinoids have been developed and examined. The active ingredients of Kronic are drawn from some of these synthetic cannabinoids, which are sprayed onto dried plant or vegetable matter.

Kronic is but one example of a group of smokable products that has been labelled by its manufacturers and sellers as “herbal incense”, used primarily for its cannabis-like effects. Smokable products, which include synthetic cannabinoids, first began to appear in the market about six or seven years ago. The constituent cannabinoids were not included in drug legislation, resulting in the product being marketed as legal. Some promotions also specifically described Kronic as being undetectable through drug testing.

Understandably, there is scant evidence about how many people use Kronic and we know little about its short- and long-term risks. Much of the evidence is based on case studies and small clinical samples, reporting on acute effects, while of course it is too soon to fully understand longer term risks. Consumers have reported that Kronic has similar effects to cannabis, with a small number suggesting the effects of Kronic are more intense. We can anticipate, therefore, that there will be similar safety concerns in relation to operating machinery and, of course, driving. Small numbers of people have been treated for a range of adverse outcomes, including anxiety, agitation, irregular and very fast heartbeat, raised blood pressure and, in a small number of cases, paranoia and hallucinations. We need to be careful interpreting these reports because it is often not clear what other drugs might have been used in combination with Kronic. Evidence is accumulating that some of the synthetic cannabinoids are associated with psychotic episodes in vulnerable individuals.

Governments in a number of countries, including Australia, have responded by banning a wide range of cannabinoids. Manufacturers have quickly responded with production of new syntheses, which they claim are fully compliant with the new laws. In Western Australia, within a few days of a new product appearing on the market, there were reports of people being treated for a range of adverse outcomes. Meanwhile, laboratories are developing new tests that will identify recent use of synthetic cannabinoids.

I think that in the future we will continue to be challenged by the production and marketing of products that are not included in drug legislation and which are not readily detectable in drug testing. When these products initially appear, we will know little about the potential risks. This suggests the need to make our legislative approaches more flexible, in essence demanding that the manufacturers and distributors demonstrate the safety of a product before they be given leave to sell it, rather than waiting for the necessary evidence to accumulate demonstrating whether it is low or high risk. This is how we manage pharmaceutical drugs and food additives. Decisions about safety should not be left to unfounded claims made by those who profit from their sale.

In relation to the workplace, Kronic is a lesson in why we should not just rely on legislation and drug testing. While we do, some people will simply try and find a way round it. We need investment in approaches that broadly build effective prevention strategies that reduce the probability of use and harm and, in the workplace, build a safety culture where, in theory, drug testing is not perceived as a required option.

*Steve Allsop, Director of National Drug Research Institute (NDRI), has worked in the drug field for over 20 years. He has been involved in research and professional development for health, police, education, welfare staff and community organisations. He is also an Adjunct Professor with the Centre for International Health, Division of Health Sciences, Curtin University.

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