Magic mushroom users turn to exotic alternatives to get high without breaking law

They have exotic names like Funk Pills, Amsterdam Gold, Kratom Leaf and Ayahuasca Sacrament and promise effects which range from the mildly euphoric to "ecstasy-style" energy rushes and hallucinogenic experiences.

But these are not drugs where you have to break the law to sell, buy or consume them - they are all completely legal. Dozens of new and ancient types of "legal highs" - derived from herbs, plants and cacti from South America and Asia and synthetic stimulants from New Zealand - are available. They can be bought, often at low prices, from internet-based companies and an increasing number of high-street "head" shops.

Ironically, the trade has been stimulated by the Government's decision last year to ban "magic mushrooms", which contain the hallucinogenic psilocin, which had been sold openly through the internet and in places such as Camden market in north London. The ban left a gap in the market, with consumers and vendors looking for new products.

Mark Evans, of everyonedoesit.com, one of the leading internet-based mail order operations, said the increase in trade since last year had been "massive". He added: "There is a huge gap in the market. These consumers are not going to disappear, they are just looking for alternatives." Mr Evans, whose company also sells cannabis seeds for growing, said there had been a change in the culture of people who consumed recreational drugs. "We do a lot of festivals and speak to people who say they are fed up with dealers and taking drugs - like ecstasy - where they cannot always be confident that they know what is in the pill. People want something which will not poison them and they [want to] know what they are buying."

Although many of the organic-based legal highs have, it is claimed, been used in primitive communities for millennia, the current biggest seller, Funk Pills, have only been in existence for a few years. Sales have rocketed in the past six months. Selling for between £5 and £7, they come from New Zealand, where they are made by companies licensed by the government there, after it decided that they were a less-harmful substitute for illegal drugs such as methamphetamine.

Also known as pep pills, they contain the stimulant benzylpiperazine - banned in the US, Denmark and Australia - with other chemicals from the piperazine family, which are also used to create Viagra.

According to DrugScope, the independent advice body, while some users are keen on the pills, attributing genuine ecstasy-style effects, others are more sceptical. The pills come with warnings about dosage, driving or using machinery, and side effects can include those normally associated with ecstasy or amphetamines, such as dehydration, anxiety and insomnia.

Another big seller is the Spice Smoking Blend, a new version of the herbal mixes which are traditional legal alternatives to cannabis. "Herbal substitutes were always a bit of a joke, but many people say these are the closest thing to marijuana yet," said Mr Evans.

At the other end of the scale from Funk Pills are the £12 peyote cacti sold by Chris Bovey, who runs another mail-order company, Potseeds.co.uk, based in Totnes in Devon. Peyote cacti contain the hallucinogenic drug mescaline, which has a similar effect to LSD and was the drug used by Aldous Huxley before he wrote The Doors of Perception, which encouraged the use of mind-altering drugs in the 1960s. Native American tribes have used it for centuries as a shamanic plant that can create visions of an alternative world. "It is a lot more in demand since the mushroom ban," he said.

Mr Bovey said consumers broadly divided into two groups - older "hippie" types, used to smoking cannabis and younger buyers seeking to replicate the "E" experience. Instances of addiction, abuse or harmful effects were almost non-existent. The Home Office said there was no reason to examine the legal status of any of the substances on the market.

Nevertheless, DrugScope issued advice to students in London earlier this year, cautioning that any drug which has a psychological effect can prove difficult to stop if used regularly. It added: "Proper controlled research is sparse, and therefore side effects and possible dangers when taken with other drugs and even foods is not known."

Harry Shapiro, a spokesman for DrugScope, added: "People with mental health problems should not take them. If you are going to experiment, do so in a safe and secure environment."

Herbal pleasures

* PEP PILLS: Marketed as Funk Pills or Party Pills and made from a chemical derived from the pepper plant. Developed as a worming treatment for cattle. Replicates the rush of ecstasy, but users should be careful of overdosing. £5-£7 for 2-3 pills

* AMANITA MUSCARIA (FLY AGARIC): Red- capped, white-spotted mushroomlong known for its psychoactive effects. Not covered by the Government's ban on "magic mushrooms" since it does not contain psilocin. Users should start with low doses. £14 for 12g

* KRATOM LEAF (above): Leaves of the Mitragyna speciosa tree of Malaysia and Thailand. Described by PotSeeds as "one of the most effective and pleasurable psychoactive herbs". Said to cause a dreamy sensation. Can be addictive. £9 for 5g

* SALVIA DIVINORUM: Herb that can create an intense high lasting less than an hour. Not recommended as a recreational drug. £10-£17 a bag

* AYAHUASCA SACRAMENT: A shamanic plant potion, it can induce vomiting before narcotic effects begin. Should not be mixed with with antidepressant drugs. £4.99 for 30g

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory