A Sky News investigation into "legal highs" has uncovered the chain of supply from Chinese chemical factories to British dealers - and discovered plans to outsmart the British authorities if they ban the drug mephedrone.
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Much of the investigation was shot with a hidden camera. Posing as customers, Sky's film crew was able to buy legal highs in shops, markets and from online dealers.
Media attention has focused on mephedrone after the drug was linked to several deaths in recent weeks.
However, Sky's investigation discovered an entire new generation of chemical highs including substances such as methylone, butylone and MDPV. All of them mimic the effects of other, better known drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy.
They are freely available with no legal consequences, though to avoid prosecution most dealers describe them as "plant food" or label them "not for human consumption."
Toxicologist Dr John Ramsey says we are witnessing a revolution in the drug trade. "We're seeing 10 or 11 new compounds every year coming out now," he said.
"While they're legal they're really quite attractive for young people. They can experiment without the risk of getting a criminal record. The problem is, we don't know what the risks are. They've never been tested anywhere for safety."
Dr Ramsey says it is understood that most dealers are being supplied by Chinese chemical companies.
"The Chinese chemical industry seems to provide anything at a price," he said.
"So if somebody here orders something they'll either synthesize it or have it in stock, and they'll send it regardless of what it's to be used for."
A quick search online reveals dozens of Chinese companies ready to sell mephedrone, methylone, MDPV and other drugs in bulk. They can be ordered at the click of a mouse and sent by courier to Britain.
Posing as a potential customer, Sky contacted a Shanghai-based company named Blinkchem.
A Miss Chen answered the phone and said that the company makes both mephedrone and methylone "in batches - 100 kilograms, 200 kilograms, 50 kilograms, whatever the customer wants".
Miss Chen went on to reveal that Blinkchem already has five British customers, "two of them big ones".
"One of them orders 50 to 100 kilograms a week" she said.
"The other one orders 50 kilograms of mephedrone a month, and 40 kilograms of methylone."
Asked whether a British ban on mephedrone would cause problem for their business Miss Chen said the company was already well prepared.
"We're working on five or six new legal products" she confided.
"Most them come from our British customers. They told us how to make the new ones."
Today the Advisory Council on the Misuse for Drug will give advice to the Home Office on mephedrone.
The Government will then have to decide whether or not to ban the drug, also known as M-Cat or Meow Meow.
But as Britain confronts a new, globalised trade in chemical highs the law is finding it almost impossible to keep up.
March 29, 2010
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