I looked like death on legal highs, addict says

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 15/04/2014
legal highs
COLLETTE DEVLIN/Fairfax NZ
FRESH START: Toni Neilson.

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A former legal-high addict is cleaning up his act after "hurting" his family and wants to help other users quit their addictions.

Yesterday, Invercargill man Toni Neilson came forward to tell his story - on the same day Invercargill anti-legal-high campaigners handed over a petition with 5806 signatures to Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt.

Neilson said he was "15 days clean" after making positive changes in his life.

The 28-year-old, who used to smoke more than three packets of synthetic cannabis each week, said there was more to life.

"It deeply affected my wellbeing, I looked like death and had no confidence or composure. I turned my back on my family and my hobbies."

The realisation for Neilson came after he "lost the plot" and smashed up his mother's house and yelled at her.

"I hurt my mum and she is my rock. That was a big deal for me."

The former hip-hop dance competitor said his love for music, dancing and the gym was helping him recover.

He was keeping a public diary on Facebook, detailing the symptoms he was experiencing after stopping. He hoped it would inspire some of his friends to stop smoking legal highs.

The meatworker first started smoking synthetic cannabis to help him sleep when he was stressed but found he needed another hit in the middle of the night.

When he woke in the morning he "didn't feel good" and would smoke again because it made him feel better.

"That was addiction in my brain. That stuff made me deeply depressed too."

Neilson said he wants to integrate back into the community and become a positive role model.

"I want to inspire people again, like I did when I danced."

His sister, Liarisha Neilson, said her brother lost his bubbly personality when he smoked legal highs and he locked himself away and became negative.

On the same day Neilson came forward, Invercargill anti-legal-high campaigners handed over their petition to the mayor.

Diana MacAskill said the group hoped the petition would send a strong message to authorities.

Shadbolt said the petition showed overwhelming opposition to legal highs in the city but the council felt helpless.

However, there could be a "glimmer of hope" if health officials joined forces to have them get banned because they had more power than councils.

 

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