Britain is 'designer drugs' capital of Europe, says EU agency

By chillinwill · Nov 5, 2009 · Updated Nov 5, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    Potent synthetic drugs proving hard to control as chemists produce alternatives quicker than authorities can ban them

    Britain has become the online "designer drugs" capital of Europe with more than a third of all internet retailers that sell "legal highs" based in the UK, according to a report from the European Union's drug agency.

    This new generation of online "head shops" is at the centre of a rapidly growing market in highly potent synthetic drugs, such as Spice, that mimic the effects of illegal substances such as cannabis and ecstasy.

    European drug agency officials are also alarmed by the way the online retailers are reacting to moves to ban individual "legal highs" by rapidly marketing alternatives. Officials say it is like trying to hit a moving target.

    Britain is poised to ban Spice, a cannabis substitute that can be more potent than skunk, which is sold as a "herbal smoking mixture" , but already the online head shops are selling 27 alternative "herbal smoking blends" based on the active ingredient in cannabis synthesised by chemists in Asia.

    Wolfgang Gotz, the director of the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction, said the use of the legal highs market to circumvent controls on illicit drugs was the most challenging development over the past 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."

    He said that Spice was an example of the global nature of the drugs problem with a product designed and marketed in Europe but produced in Asia and targeted at the potentially large group of consumers who were interested in cannabis.

    "If Spice is a taste of things to come, both our monitoring systems and our drug control mechanisms will have to evolve in order to meet the new challenges that this kind of market innovation is presenting us with."

    The annual report from the European drugs agency cites the case of BZP, a "designer stimulant" that was banned across Europe earlier this year, as an example of how rapidly this new British-based market reacts to attempts to ban legal highs.

    A whole range of alternative "energy party pills" is already being marketed and advertised as BZP-free and sold under names such as Charged, Turbo III – The Next Generation and Cranked. They promise to make you feel "energetic, alert, and lively for five to six hours". Charged is promoted as "the perfect power source to fuel your long days and big nights". Snuff products or herbal powders, claiming to contain caffeine and a range of other plant-based ingredients, are also being sold as a legal alternatives to cocaine and amphetamines.

    The 2009 survey of online shops selling these "psychoactive" drugs found 115 retailers operating from 17 European countries, but the majority were based in the UK (37%) and Germany (15%). Nearly half the sites selling Spice were located in Britain. Germany, France and Austria made selling Spice illegal in March this year and Britain is poised to follow suit as soon as the measure is approved by parliament.

    Paul Griffiths, of the European drugs agency, said that Spice contained a new compound, JWH-018, which was the first synthetic cannabinoid – the active ingredient in marijuana – and which was very potent even at low doses. In the face of the growing crackdown on Spice, research chemists have already developed a range of nine other cannabis-like drugs that would not be covered by the ban.

    "Detecting these compounds is very difficult. Sometimes they are masked by spraying with other substances. We have no knowledge of their toxicity and overdoses are possible," he said.

    The difficulties for the law enforcement authorities in dealing with these new drugs was highlighted earlier this week when a British "transporter", Steve Marsden, 50, was freed from a Maltese jail after serving only three years of a 25-year prison sentence for importing 50,000 "ecstasy" tablets into the island. His appeal succeeded when it was proved that the active ingredient in his tablets was not the illegal chemical MDMA, but a new legal synthetic drug mCPP, or Piperazine, which has similar effects.

    The annual report confirms that Britain and Spain remain at the top of the Euro-league table for cocaine consumption and also shows that the decline in cannabis consumption among British schoolchildren has continued despite the downgrading of its legal status. In the mid-1990s, 42% of British teenagers aged 15-16 reported to have used cannabis but this has now fallen to 29% of the age group.

    Alan Travis
    November 5, 2009
    The Guardian

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  1. 10outof10
    "Britain is poised to ban Spice, a cannabis substitute that can be more potent than skunk, which is sold as a "herbal smoking mixture" , but already the online head shops are selling 27 alternative "herbal smoking blends" based on the active ingredient in cannabis synthesised by chemists in Asia."

    I have noticed that that the above statement has been commonly reported in media that the government are banning Spice. It it is my understanding that UK Govenmenment plan to ban cannabinoids generally. There has been 3 varietys of Spice found to contain JWH-018 according to St Georges Toxicology unit in London but feel the fact that this one brand being jumped upon is a little unfair as there are plenty of varietys that also contain it. So it seems that the media are actually still reporting incorrect facts-shock horror! As it is not actually that specific brand that is being banned. :s
  2. RainbowStorm
    I just had a massive brain wave, whats ever going to stop anyone smoking/taking anything? People will always be able to smoke plants and consume chemicals. So.... drugs are never going to go, and just banning "substances" that are popular is an exercise in futility.
  3. vibrancy3
    i love that, goverment try to ban a drug and chemists just add an extra compound onto mdma and re-sell it!
  4. Terrapinzflyer
  5. LysergicButterfly
    I love it too, I wonder when the UK government is going to realise that they're fighting a losing battle?
  6. corvardus
    They won't. In fact they would actively encourage it. With every new drug that they criminalise they will proclaim to the public that they are "Hard on Drugs".

    It's like a pulse. Every few months... hard on drugs... hard on drugs... hard on drugs... hard on drugs... etc..

    Perhaps with enough repetition they think people would believe they are "Hard on Drugs".

    "Poor deluded fools, makes me laugh! Hahahahaha!" - Phantom of the Opera
  7. Terrapinzflyer

    Turtle tends to disagree with this sentiment. Of all the "mdma" sisters created none have the real benefits of MDMA that make it the darling of the psychiatric researchers. None have the life transforming magic that MDMA has. And no one has yet developed anything close to the magic of LSD.

    Sure, chemists keep finding new toys for the rats, or new sources of income depending on how one looks at things, but the government is succeeding in making the very best substances very illegal. The true believers may keep at it, but many are diverted down easier roads.

    Turtle would also argue that this chemical game of cat and mouse does a bit of a disservice as well. If there were not these lesser alternatives around, maybe the cries of the labrats would be louder against the injustices of this war on drugs...
  8. mc shuu
    well put, turtle...
  9. Tamis
    Very interesting !

    The war to come will be quite interesting to watch for it is (almost) impossible to keep up with the chemists (scheduling a product takes time and loads of money... makes you wonder who owns the labs taking that money btw). Thus governments will have to change the law greatly to win this war... but even that seems almost impossible without entering a dictature like world (some will say we are already in a dictature regarding drugs and drug users...)

  10. chillinwill
    Drug advisers depart as report shows Britain is drug hotspot

    In the same week that Britain was shown to be Europe's home for legal highs, a senior government counsel was sacked for suggesting that cannabis be declassified. Dr Les King, a premier fount on legal, substances followed in protest

    Anti-drug campaigners face the difficulty of trying to “hit a moving target” with the current influx of legal highs, according to the European drugs agency in their annual report published last Thursday.

    The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) report, The State of the Drugs Problem in Europe, showed a “worrying” rise in the use of “legal-highs”.

    The report was published less than a week after the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, asked the senior independent drug adviser to the government, Professor David Nutt, to resign after he openly disagreed with government policy on cannabis.

    His dismissal was followed by the protest resignation by two of his colleagues, Marion Walker and Dr Les King.

    Dr King and Prof Nutt were both due to attend a public meeting of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on 10 November.

    This meeting was later closed off to the public due to “a lot of interest” and to “avoid disruption” according to a Home Office spokesperson.

    Dr King's is the UK's leading authority on synthetic drug compounds, such as Spice a herbal smoke.

    Only days after his resignation the EMCDDA report revealed the lack of efficacy of government policy in tackling new “sophisticated” drug markets – as seen in the proliferation of websites offering “legal alternatives”.

    They offer substances that are sold legally but not for human consumption, including plant feed, forms of steroids and chemical solvents.

    Earlier this year the government put forward a proposal to control a handful of substances, considered to be legal highs: Gamma-Butyrolactone (chemical solvent); synthetic cannabinoids (often sprayed on tobacco and called “spice”) and Benzylpiperazine (an alternative to amphetamine).

    The decision to bring the stimulants under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1974 was influenced by the, recently renounced Prof. Nutt, who said that they “were dangerous drugs, especially when mixed with alcohol”.

    Legal highs are sold predominantly over the internet and Britain has emerged as a primary source of legal high retailers.

    A survey carried out in 2009 of 115 online shops in 17 European countries showed the majority, 37 percent, were based in the UK, while Germany and the Netherlands hosted 15 and 14 percent respectively.

    Director of EMCDDA, Wolfgang Götz, said that legal highs were not new, but rather better marketing techniques, the use of the internet and “intentional mislabelling” of vital information have led to a quick growth.

    Mr Götz said that legislation was now keeping up to pace with the of change of products on the market:

    “If Spice is a taste of things to come,” Mr Götz wrote, “Europe will need to ensure that its responses are adequate to tackle this growing challenge.”

    EMCDDA carry out studies throughout the year with a team made up of up to 80 specialists from across 20 nationalities, their findings influence drug policy within the EU membership.

    22 year old Jay who works in Edinburgh and is a regular user of legal highs, sold as organic plant fertilisers, told The Journal that he preferred them to illegal highs as they removed the “fear of getting caught”.

    “At the moment, illegal drugs are more expensive and more risky.”

    He says that within his circle of friends there is little worry that alternatives will come along to replace the soon to be banned substances.

    A representative for Scottish Drug Forum told The Journal, that banning these substances can, at the very least, warn people that they take a risk if they chose to use them.

    “Keeping on top of the recreational drug culture—especially with the ever increasing number of substances becoming available—will always provide a real challenge for the drugs field.

    "Providing accurate and credible information about these and all drugs is a key priority.”

    On 5 October an 18 year old girl was with friends at a car park on the outskirts of Edinburgh when, after inhaling gas from a lighter, she collapsed and later died in hospital.

    Solvent abuse, such as sniffing glue, inhaling gas from aerosols, is considered a “very hidden” issue by, Marina Clayton, Scotland's development manager for Re-Solve a charity which aims to tackle solvent abuse.

    “What is more innocuous than a couple of aerosols in a schoolbag? Legal but lethal, it's almost impossible to control the products of abuse,” said Ms Clayton.

    Ms Clayton said that Re-Solve placed impartial advice above that of value-laden educational information.

    She said: “Often, the rationale for inaction is 'if we tell them, they'll try it'. That way, they only get partial facts though, and therein lies the danger.”

    In August of this year a report jointly funded by the Scottish government and University of Glasgow estimated the national and local prevalence of problem drugs in Scotland.

    The report found that around 1.6 percent (55,500 people) of those aged between 15 and 64 were abusing opiates or benzodiazepines, which are described as forms of heroin or anti-depressants.

    The report criticised the “drug information infrastructure” in Scotland, information is not held centrally by one body, as happens in England.

    It said that “most concerning” was “the fact that nobody has a clear idea” of the number of drug users in treatment.

    Matthew Moore
    November 11, 2009
    The Journal
  11. Piglet
    At the end of the day, anyone looking to make a designed THC like drug has 40 years of research to look through. The government would need to ban 1000s of chemicals and thats just THC analogs. Forget all the uppers, downers, trippys & opioids out there!
  12. b3ni
    Are we taking about Viagra :p
  13. corvardus
    SWIM had both a wonderous and terrible dream last night in the same dream. It was set in the future and drug legislation was based upon not the chemical but how it interacted with the host organism.

    The same dream also had cannabis being sold legally in Tesco. LOL

    The dilemma on how one would counteract the 1000's of chemicals has been preying on my mind for a while. They can't outright ban everything but they could, say, ban chemicals that are CB1, CB2 receptor agonists regardless of their chemical composition.

    The bastard child of the analogue law! So taking from the chemical to the receptors in which they act. The problem here would then be that of determining which receptors a drug binds on to, but when that is found out the manufacturer has automatically and retroactively committed a crime.

    The idea is so insideous a politician would probably go for it. Especially, like in my dream, in the future where knowledge of receptor activity and physiological responses are further elucidated.

    Indeed. One could argue that a number of right-honourable flacid members of parliament require such chemical assistance.
  14. Seaquake
    that's why they have written up an analogue law for the cannabinoids, not being a chemist I can't say they've not missed something, but they've pretty much got everything covered.
  15. chillinwill
    Britain Now 'Designer Drugs' Capital of Europe

    It has been linked to the death of a 14-year-old schoolgirl and caused another teenager to mutilate himself, but the substance nicknamed "meow meow" is still freely available on U.K.-based Web sites.

    Owing to a loophole in the law, the drug mephedrone is legal to sell as long as it is marketed as "plant food."

    However, suppliers often deliver the powdered drug within 24 hours to their online customers—along with a fake bank note through which the substance can be snorted.

    "We sell this purely for botanical use only," a sales agent for one supplier insisted.

    "If you need to learn the effects of mephedrone on the human body then we suggest you Google it."

    However, health workers are concerned about a growing dependence on the drug that’s used as a stimulant or party drug by young people; they point to the drug’s nasty side effects including convulsions, breathing problems, nose bleeds, depression, and psychosis.

    It is just one of a number of other so-called designer drugs or legal highs, which have inundated the U.K. market in recent years, and which the government is now trying hard to counter.

    Last year, the government reclassified three legal highs—including stimulants BZP and GBL—as Class C drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Class C drugs include tranquilizers, some painkillers, 15 anabolic steroids; penalties for dealing them can carry penalties of up to 14 years in prison or an unlimited fine or both, according to the U.K. Home Office Web site.

    In 2009, the drug GBL was responsible for the deaths of three promising graduates in their twenties.

    One of the victims, 24-year-old Chris Dyer, died in March after a five-year battle with addiction to GBL.

    “The disease of addiction means many things to me,” he wrote in his diary 16 months before his death. “I live a life of unhappiness, lies, and deceit.

    "I devastate my family, but besides being there for me, there is little they can do. It will ultimately lead to my death, unless I stop,” reported the Telegraph.

    Although chemically different, GBL has a similar effect to notorious date-rape drug GHB, which was banned in 2003. Warnings over the drug were first raised in 2005, when one doctor said that it was “vastly more dangerous than Ecstasy.” However it was not banned in the U.K. until November last year.

    The country's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is investigating mephedrone as a “top priority” and is expected to report back early this year.

    Last year, the drug was linked to the death of 14-year-old Gabrielle Price, who consumed the substance along with the drug ketamine—a combination that has been nicknamed "Milton Keynes."

    Friends said she had not expected any ill effects because the drug had been legal.

    On an online message board, school friend Emily Siggers wrote: "You are deeply missed. School's got flowers for you in our class, but that won't bring you back."

    A Durham Police report last November, recounted how one young user had mutilated himself after severe hallucinations.

    "A large number of contributors state how addictive mephedrone is and they are constantly topping up," the report said.
    A simple Google search brings up a number of Web sites selling mephedrone for as little as £5 (US$7.60) a gram (0.04 ounces).

    By way of comparison, the illegal drug MDMA—which is said to have identical effects—is around £35 (US$53) a gram.
    Other drugs for sale include methylone, which has been likened to Ecstasy, and the designer drug MDPV.
    Legal Highs Made in Laboratories in China

    Many of the legal highs, which have been introduced to the U.K. of late, have been developed in laboratories in China.
    One supplier interviewed by the Sunday Telegraph last year said that the drug had been sold in bulk.

    “We started off buying mephedrone in bulk from other Web sites,” the supplier was quoted as saying. “Then we found a Chinese company that offered to supply us.

    "We buy it in bulk from them at a cost of around £2,500 (US$3,743) a kilogram (2.2 pounds) and they ship it over—usually within three to five days."

    Rather than simply ban individual designer drugs as they emerge onto the market, the government is attempting to come up with broader classifications on similar types of substances. For instance, officials are looking to outlaw 'cannabinoids' which include former legal highs like the drug 'Spice'—a man-made chemical sprayed on herbal cigarettes—which had been sold in 'Head Shops' in the U.K.

    The European Union's drug agency conducted a survey in 2009, which found that the U.K. was emerging as the region's capital for legal highs.

    Officials are also alarmed by the way the online retailers are reacting to moves to ban individual legal highs by rapidly marketing alternatives. Top representatives say it is like trying to hit a moving target.

    The supplier, interviewed by the Sunday Telegraph, said that he was aware that at some point the government may consider making mephedrone illegal.

    "[But] then there may be another drug shipped over that is chemically similar and has similar effects, but is legal. What’s to stop us selling that instead?”

    By Stephen Jones
    March 2, 2010
    The Epoch Times
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