Comment: Are legal highs safe for consumption?

Image Copyright Albert Bridge. This work is a licensed under Creative Commons.

Six men from Jesmond were hospitalised last month after taking an hallucinogen, which they had bought on the internet.

While many recreational drugs are illegal, other substances that mimic their effects remain unchecked by the law.

These imitations are collectively known as legal highs and are readily available in a shop near you. If buying them over the counter is not your thing, you can order them online and have them hand-delivered the next day to your doorstep.

“A lot of these research chemicals are marketed as plant fertilizers and pond cleaner,” said a student who spoke to JesmondLocal. This student confessed he was a “productive stoner” but admitted he had not seen his classmate during the last academic semester, since he was too stoned attend most lectures.

One site we found apparently sells farm produce and fertilizers for your garden, its products accompanied by pictures of bright orange pumpkins and flower gardens. But one product it offers is known as Benzo Fury.

Our search of that site listed at least four results offering between 5 and 50 capsules of this ecstasy-type drug. Like all substances that pose a health risk, Benzo Fury comes with a warning too; to be more precise, you’ll find three warnings: it is described as “Not for human consumption”, is circled in red and carrying a black cross inside a yellow box and is marked with the word “Harmful” underneath.

An associated website does state, on its terms and conditions page, that it “may cancel any sale and not supply products if it is reasonable to do so or if it feels any of the products on sale are intended for human consumption”. And yet its homepage carries an image of a nightclub full of people partying.

Another UK website we found offers a range of products with cheeky names such as Charly Sheen, King Charly and Pink Panthers.

Head shops and internet websites sell other party drugs such as DXM, Miaow Miaow and Doob. DXM, short for dextromethorphan, is an active ingredient in cough medicine but is sold in powdered form over the internet. If taken in high quantities it acts as an hallucinogen. DXM causes a feeling of nausea and anxiety.

Others are taking dry cough medicine sold for as little as £2 in local pharmacies and available without prescription.

The student we spoke to claims to have seen Cloud Nine being sold openly in a head shop despite it being banned from sale in Britain. He added that he has never been ID’d before at a head shop but was casually asked if he was above 18.

“I was once told (by a man at the counter), ‘I hope you appreciate that this is not for human consumption’.”

And yet there are no provisions at all in place to check whether young people are buying substances that are not fit for human consumption over the internet. They only need a valid debit card.

Why are people attracted to research chemicals used as pond cleaners and plant fertilizers?

“Well, because some people don’t have easy access to drugs like marijuana, and Doob is legal,” said the student. “However, my chest hurts sometimes when I do too much Doob. It doesn’t hurt when I smoke marijuana.”

The availability of legal highs has led to further debate on and calls for the legalisation of soft drugs. But this is always the easy option to fall back on. The effects of drug abuse are always detrimental to society, locally and beyond.