The UK's hard-line approach to so-called legal highs and other psychoactive substances is making it "more dangerous for young people who want to experiment", a report will say.
The Government should consider the benefits of some drugs, including the possibility that the use of less harmful substances can prevent people using more dangerous drugs, the joint report by the think-tank Demos and the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) said.
It comes after the EU drugs agency found that half of all new drugs found in Europe last year were first reported in the UK or Ireland.
The report, Taking Drugs Seriously, called for the "outdated" Misuse of Drugs Act to be replaced by trading standards laws, making those who sell the drugs prove they are safe.
It also called for the Government to use drugs users and front-line workers to help form "an early warning system" with real-time information on emerging substances.
There is no evidence that the "fundamental and growing" bias towards banning drugs in the UK "reduces overall harms and it is possible it can, unintentionally, increase harms", the report said.
Jonathan Birdwell, co-author of the report, said: "So-called 'legal highs' present an entirely new challenge that needs a more intelligent response.
"With the aim of being hard-line towards all psychoactive substances, the Government risks making it more, not less, dangerous for young people who want to experiment."
Roger Howard, chief executive of the UKDPC, added: "Forty years ago, the Misuse of Drugs Act was passed in a world where new drugs came along every few years, not every few weeks.
"The argument about whether to be tough or soft about drugs is increasingly redundant in the era of the internet and global trade: we have to think differently.
"It might be time to say that those who seek to sell new substances should have to prove their safety, rather than that the Government should have to prove otherwise. Controlling new substances through trading standards legislation offers a new vehicle to achieve this."
Chief Constable Tim Hollis, the lead on drugs for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said: "Police forces and health professionals across England and Wales are only too aware of the problems that a wave of new drugs can bring.
"A particular challenge is the speed with which news of legal highs can be circulated on social networking sites and made available via the internet.
"The idea of Trading Standards officers having a stronger role in controlling substances is one that is worthy of consideration and reinforces the fact that closer partnership working is essential in addressing the issue."Reuse content