Synthetic cannabis

Multi-agency response to synthetic cannabis

Following reports that the Coroner is investigation 40 to 45 deaths provisionally linked to synthetic cannabis, Cabinet invited the Ministers of Health, Justice, Police and Customs to develop a multi-agency response. The agencies will work together to:

  • identify information and data, and gaps, concerning synthetic cannabis users, use and harm
  • identify current services and interventions in place and their effectiveness
  • describe interventions that could be improved or further developed and implemented
  • consider and develop options for further measures in prevention, treatment, monitoring, enforcement and regulatory change
  • consider opportunities for contributing to Government priorities including health and justice reform.

What is synthetic cannabis

Synthetic cannabis is a smokeable plant material containing one or more chemical compounds called synthetic cannabinoids that cause the user to get ‘high’. Synthetic cannabinoids are manufactured in a laboratory and little is currently known about their effects on humans.


Many synthetic cannabinoids are more potent than cannabis and have the ability to cause significant physical and mental harm. The risk associated with synthetic cannabis use is substantial, as the user will not know which type of synthetic cannabinoid they are consuming or how strong the dose is.  

The New Zealand Drug Foundation has information about how to be safer and when to get help.

The Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs

In a number of deaths in Auckland in 2017, the Institute for Environmental and Scientific Research (ESR) identified the synthetic cannabinoids AMB-FUBINACA and 5F-ADB, but it is possible that other synthetic cannabinoids may also cause or contribute to severe side effects, including death.

The Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD) considered a number of synthetic cannabinoids at their April 2018 meeting. The EACD recommended that AMB-FUBINACA and 5F-ADB be scheduled as Class A controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 (MoDA).

In response to the EACD’s recommendations, the Misuse of Drugs Act was amended to classify AMB-FUBINACA and 5F-ADB as Class A drugs.

The Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act came into force on 13 August 2019. Read more about the changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Statements from the Coroner

A joint statement was issued by the Chief Coroner, Judge Deborah Marshall and Police on 21 July 2017 after at least seven deaths in July in Auckland:

A further statement was issued by the Chief Coroner and Police on 14 September 2017:

Back to top