Britain Named European Capital for “Legal Highs”
A new report by the European Union’s drug agency found that Britain is the online capital of Europe for potent synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of illegal substances such as Spice, a cannabis substitute sold as a herbal smoking mixture.
Richard Ford of the Times Online writes that the United Kingdom is about to ban Spice, but online retailers are already selling 27 alternatives.
Wolfgang Gotz, the director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, said the use of the legal highs market to get around controls on illegal drugs was the most challenging development over the last year.
“While this practice itself is not new, what is new is the wide range of substances now on offer, the growing use of the internet, the aggressive and sophisticated marketing of products and the very speed with which the market reacts to controls,” Gotz said.
The annual report said that since the synthetic stimulant Benzylpiperazine (or BZP) was banned in EuropBZe earlier this year, a new UK-based market had emerged with alternatives.
Among the stimulants, marketed as BZP-free, are a range of energy party pills promising to keep people alert and lively for up to six hours.
Snuff products and herbal powders claiming to contain caffeine and other plant-based ingredients are also being sold online as legal alternatives to cocaine and amphetamines.
A survey of online shops selling these “psychoactive” drugs earlier this year found 115 retailers operating from 17 European countries. The majority, 37 percent, were based in the UK, 15 percent in Germany, and 14 percent in the Netherlands.
Almost half the sites selling Spice were in Britain. Germany, France, and Austria made Spice illegal in March and the UK is about to do the same once the measure is approved by MPs.
The annual report said little impact has been made in the last year in European efforts to curb cocaine and heroin use.
“Cocaine and heroin are maintaining a firm hold on Europe’s drugs scene and there is little to suggest any improvement regarding their use,” the report said.
It confirmed that Britain and Spain are still at the top of the European league table for consumption of cocaine. But it shows a continuing fall in cannabis consumption among British schoolchildren.
In the mid-1990s, 42 percent of British teenagers aged 15-16 reported to have used cannabis, but this has fallen to 29 percent.