Teenager 'zombified' by legal highs

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 06:56 05/02/2014
Anesha Stratton
Emma Allen

HOPEFUL FUTURE: Tracie Stratton, left, is supporting her daughter, Anesha Stratton, as she tries to give up her addiction to synthetic cannabis

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Teenager Anesha Stratton wakes up at least three times a night to smoke synthetic cannabis.

The Blenheim 19-year-old will be admitted to a detox centre in Christchurch next Friday, Valentine's Day, after realising that she can't give up legal highs on her own.

Fairfax Media understands she will be the fifth patient at the Kennedy Detox Unit at Hillmorton Hospital to be treated for synthetic cannabis addiction.

Stratton smoked legal highs for less than a year before the habit got out of control in September while she was living in Nelson.

"I'd wake up during the night with hot and cold sweats," she said. "I had to have another smoke so I could stop feeling sick."

She wasn't hungry when she was sober but ate when she was high, causing her to vomit every morning when she woke up.

She used her benefit money, about $210 a week, to pay her board. The rest went on AK47, a type of synthetic cannabis that has since been taken off the market.

At her worst, Stratton smoked 3 grams a day which cost $20 and gave her up to 50 hits using a bong, she said.

"The initial high only lasts 10 minutes, so you'd just sit around all day and continually smoke it."

She lost motivation for anything other than getting money to fund her habit and her weight dropped from 55 kilograms to 48kg.

By October, she was behind in her rent and was kicked out of the boarding house.

She didn't tell anyone about her addiction because she was ashamed, Stratton said.

Her mother, Tracie Stratton, moved to Australia in August and didn't realise the extent of her daughter's addiction until she visited her in Queensland in November.

She knew her daughter smoked legal highs occasionally but wasn't too concerned because they were legal, she said.

But after a withdrawal episode at a mall in Australia that lasted 40 minutes she knew she had to move back to Blenheim to get her daughter help.

"She was rocking back and forth, just crying and rocking," she said. "She was really messed up."

She wanted synthetic highs banned after seeing what they did to her daughter.

"She used to have a glitter, a sparkle in her eye. She was a beautiful looking girl," she said. "Now she's got dark circles under her eyes. I hear her in the morning vomiting and retching and there's nothing I can do."

In January, her daughter saw a drug and alcohol addiction counsellor in Blenheim and was referred to the detox unit in Christchurch.

Stratton wanted to stop smoking synthetic cannabis to get her life back, she said.

"When you're smoking it dulls your senses, but when you're sober, these overwhelming emotions hit you. Now I don't smoke it for the high, I smoke it to stop feeling sick."

She hoped the Government would change the law and make synthetic cannabis illegal.

"I'm begging everyone to take it off the market, so I can be safe and so no-one else goes through this."

She encouraged anyone addicted to synthetic highs to seek help.

"People think it's in your head, they think because you can buy it in a shop you must be making it up. It zombifies you."

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