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Legal Highs On The Drug Scene.

Potentially deadly new legal highs are being discovered at a rate of almost one every three weeks, according to a Home Office report.

A report by the Home Affairs Editor of the Telegraph.

Potentially deadly new legal highs are being discovered at a rate of almost one every three weeks, according to a Home Office report.

Researchers who trawl the internet, music festivals and “head shops” for drugs found 17 substances that had never been seen before in just over a year.  The authorities have since taken action to limit the sale of two new party drugs – known to users as Mexxy and Ivory Wave.  But the study adds that many products sold as ‘legal highs’ may actually contain banned substances and that there is no guarantee they are safe to take. It warns: “The analysis shows that just because a substance is termed ‘legal’ does not make it safe or ‘legal’ and the contents of a package are probably ‘not what it says on the tin’. “Government is concerned about the harms posed by these drugs, and the continuing rise in reports linking the use of [legal highs] to A&E presentations and some deaths.”

The Home Office report shows that as well as trying to stop dealers selling narcotics that have long been illegal, the authorities are also having to fight a growing trade in new substances that mimic existing recreational drugs but which are legal when they are created in labs. “The increased development and availability of [legal highs] is changing the face of the drug scene and its ‘marketplace’ with greater access via the internet for both their purchase and the sharing of information in forums and blogs,” the report said.

A body called Forensic Early Warning System was set up by the Home Office last year to identify legal highs as soon as they go on sale and pass on details to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which can tell ministers to ban a substance.  Between January 2011 and March this year, researchers obtained 1,300 samples that were analysed by scientists. FEWS identified 17 New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) “not previously seen in the UK”, more than one a month.  Eight were found online, one at a festival and eight were identified after being seized by police.  Five were synthetic forms of cannabis, two were similar to ecstasy, one had effects similar to khat leaf and four were psychedelic drugs like magic mushrooms.  The Government has recently taken action to stop two legal highs being taken, with methoxetamine (Mexxy) being made subject to a one-year ban and importation of 2-DPMP (Ivory Wave, Purple Wave, Vanilla Sky) prohibited.

However 19 per cent of all samples seized contained drugs already controlled under the law, including cocaine, ketamine and MDMA, so anyone caught in possession of them could have faced prosecution. Some of the “very potent” legal highs contained as many as eight different substances, so “no one can really be sure what each individual package contains”. Experts want the Government to introduce blanket bans on drugs that have particular effects on the brain, so that they become illegal as soon as they are manufactured.

Legal highs: an unknown quantity

Dr Phil Yates, Forensic Science Service:

Over the last year or so, we’ve seen a huge increase in these types of ‘legal highs’ –which are now mostly illegal highs – being sent into the forensic laboratories for analysis. These are new drugs – they are such an unknown, it could be seen as a lot more risky to take them.

If something's advertised as a legal high, people might think somehow the government have sanctioned that, and so it’s safe to take. Whereas, really, all it means, is that that drug – nobody’s tested it, nobody knows whether it’s safe. These are completely unknown quantities. If you were somebody who has maybe heard of this 'meow meow' drug, this methylmethcathinone, or MMC (there's all these different names that these drugs have), and you think, ‘Well, I’ll try some of that – it sounds like it’s going to be OK’, and you go out and ask if anybody's got any and they give you a powder – it could be that, or it could turn out to be something completely different.And again, you won't know. And the effects of those substances – you know, they’re not intended for human use. You really don’t know what you're getting.

The drugs found in Britain by researchers for the first time between January 2011 and March 2012


2. MDAI (Sparkle)

3. Etizolam

4. JWH-250

5. JWH-200

6. AM-694

7. 4-Me0-PcP

8. 5-Me0-DALT

9. 2-AI

10. n-ethylbuphedrone

11. 2-C-C-NBoMe

12. AM-2201

13. Ipracetin

14. Ethacetin

15. 4-HO-MiPT

16. 2-C-P

17. 25D-NBOMe

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