June 27 2006 at 02:53AM
Brussels - Hallucinogenic "magic mushrooms" are the latest trendy drug among young Europeans because of a growing interest in organic products and Internet marketing, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said on Monday.
The report, released in Lisbon but also made available in Brussels, coincided with a European Commission decision to launch wide-ranging consultations on curbing drug consumption.
European Justice Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini called for a harmonisation of anti-drug legislation across the European Union and said the focus should also be on eradicating international networks which are trafficking drugs around the world.
The EMCDDA's new study said that among school students in many European countries the use of hallucinogenic ("magic") mushrooms exceeded that of ecstasy.
The Czech Republic, the Netherlands, France and Belgium recorded the highest consumption rates of up to eight percent while the lowest levels were recorded in Cyprus, Finland and Romania (below 0.5 percent).
Like LSD, the psychedelic drug of the 1960s, hallucinogens affect people's perceptions, thoughts or emotions. This results in altered interpretations of sensory input, alternate states of consciousness, or hallucinations.
A total of 150 "smart shops" in the drug user-friendly Netherlands which specialise in legal psychoactive herbal substances, had played a key role in kick-starting the new magic mushroom trend, the EU's drug watchdog said. Market stalls in Ireland and Britain also helped boost the popularity of the drug.
In addition, the Internet provides "a multilingual marketing channel and e-commerce sales outlets offering doorstep delivery", the agency said.
"Magic" mushrooms are most popular among clubbers, the EU agency said, adding taking hallucinogenic mushrooms is more common among young people who have used other illegal drugs than among young people who have not.
According to the European Commission, more than 8 000 people - mainly young men in their 20s and 30s - die of drug overdoses each year. The total number of drug-related deaths - including accidents, violence and Aids - is estimated at over 20 000.
Drugs are becoming cheaper, purer, stronger and more easily available in Europe, the EU commission highlighted, adding that the drugs industry "is in excellent health".
"It is truly global, uses the latest technology and knows no national boundaries - unlike much of the political and law enforcement response, which has yet to match the international scale and efficiency of organised crime in this field," the EU executive said.
Drug consumption and mortality across Europe are at "unprecedented levels and show little sign of coming down", it underlined.
Any given month, 1.5 million Europeans take cocaine, the commission said, adding that the flows of cocaine and heroine into the continent are rising.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that the bloc would remain a major source of funds for countries seeking a way out of their dependence on drug production.
The EU aid is meant to "to offer new routes out of poverty and strengthen their ability to provide alternatives to drug crops", she said. - Sapa-dpa