Growth of 'legal highs' poses new risks to drug users

A global downturn in the use of traditional drugs has been offset by a surge in the demand for "legal highs", rapidly changing the nature of the world's drug industry and threatening the power of individual countries to regulate it.

Click HERE to view graphic (163k jpg)

While international markets for heroin, cocaine and cannabis either declined or remained stable over the past year, there has been a striking rise in new synthetic "designer drugs" that are not under international control, according to the UN World Drug Report 2011, which was published yesterday.

Opium production dropped by almost 40 per cent last year and the production of cocaine around the world has fallen by a sixth since 2007, according to the international body. However, the reduction in illicit drug-use can be partly explained by the "substitution" of illegal drugs for "unregulated" and "untested" stimulants, which experts warn could be just as dangerous to public health.

In Europe, which is described as one of the most "innovative" when it comes to new drugs, 110 new psychoactive substances were reported to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Europol between 1997 and 2009. Last year, 41 new substances emerged – almost double the number recorded in 2009. Sixteen of these were first reported in the UK.

The most high profile has been mephedrone, or meow meow, which has been linked to a number of deaths, and was banned in the UK in April last year.

Other examples of "designer" drugs include Spice, a synthetic substance that emulates the effects of cannabis, and BZP, a chemical derivative often sold to mimic the effects of ecstasy.

Sandeep Chawla, director of policy and public affairs at the UN Drugs and Crime office, who supervised the report, said the majority of these drugs are "widely available" and "easily made" with a "little chemical know-how".

He said: "We are getting to a point where production of these drugs can take place next to the consumer, in his or her own kitchen or in their backyard. Recipes can be found on the internet and many of the so-called 'legal highs' can be made fairly simply.

"The report indicates there is no change in the fact that human beings have an appetite for psychoactive substances, the problem is the way in which they are now being produced completely changes the methods we have to control them. They are much too new and not tested, which means we don't know the effects they have."

The Government plans to bring in temporary banning orders for legal highs. A Home Office spokesman said: "We are committed to tackling new drugs and stopping them gaining a foothold in this country. That is why we have introduced proposals for a system of temporary bans on new psychoactive substances to protect the public while our independent experts assess the harms they pose."

Drug charities have warned that the speed at which new substances are emerging could present challenges for enforcement, education, prevention and health responses. They argue the effectiveness of a banning system would depend on the ability of customs officers to detect new consignments entering the country and on the strength of international cooperation.

The UN estimates that up to 6.2 per cent of the world's population used "illicit substances"at least once in 2009.

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

    £16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

    £65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

    Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Ashdown Group: Software Development Project Manager - Kingston Upon Thames

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Experienced Software Dev...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders