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Experts at the Recreational Drugs European Network has identified a wide range of new so called “legal highs” that have been manufactured to mimic illegal drugs.
The chemicals, which are often made in China and India before being sold over the internet, are appearing faster than it is possible for authorities to ban them.
It means some of the drugs are being sold legally over the internet while others are disguised as other products such as plant food and incense.
Researchers who have been analysing the new substances have found highly potent hallucinogens and stimulants among the new drugs.
As little is known about how these drugs work or their effects on the human body and brain, the scientists warn they can be dangerous and easy to overdose with.
Often the “novel psychoactive substances”, as they are known to the authorities, are enhanced forms of common illegal drugs and can pose serious health risks.
The scientists leading the project have also found that many of the new substances contain high impurities that pose a risk to the health of those who take them.
Ornella Corazza, principal lecturer in mental health at the University of Hertfordshire who has helping to lead the project, said: “These new drugs appear very, very quickly.
“During the past 10 years we have identified over 650 novel substances.
“There are hundreds of internet sites selling these products. They are just a click away from our homes.
“The real risk is that there is no way of knowing what these drugs really are or what they might contain.”
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The researchers now have a licence from the Home Office to buy and conduct tests on these new drugs as part of a project to better understand what they are.
They have tested 12 new substances in the past few months and found that at least 60 per cent of the drugs contain high levels of impurities.
Most had caffeine but also contained chemicals that have still to be completely identified.
The researchers are now working with police and hospital doctors in an attempt to provide up to the minute information on any new drugs they may encounter.
They have a team of 16 analysts who monitor the internet in eight different languages for signs of new drugs appearing on the market.
The first mention of these drugs often occurs in chat rooms, on social networking sites and video sites before they appear on the streets.
The researchers are then able to purchase the drugs and test them to see what they are made of and look for potential risks.
Police officers or doctors who come across a drug they have not encountered before can text the name or nickname to the Recreational Drugs European Network and receive information about the drug.
Dr Corazza added: “If we are asked about something we haven’t noticed before, it can act as an early warning system of something new that has been generated.
“We gather information on it rapidly and send it around to our partners.”
Designer drugs have become a growing concern for the Government and police since one substance called mephedrone, or meow meow, was banned in 2010.
The drug had been linked to around 38 deaths in the UK before it was banned.
Since then the researchers warn a second generation of “legal highs” have emerged such as MDAI and 5-IAI.
MDAI, also called “sparkle” or “mindy”, has played a role in three deaths in the UK, causing a toxic effect known as serotonin syndrome.
Other drugs to be recently identified include Bromo-Dragonfly, a powerful psychedelic drug similar to LSD but with effects that can last for up to three days.
Several drugs similar to the “date rape” drug GHB have also been found along with synthetic cannabinoids.
Last week a 15-year-old boy suffered stroke-like symptoms in Torquay in Devon after taking a drug sold as pot pourri called “Bubble Bud”.
Two years ago experts at the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs warned that the UK faced a growing threat from new synthetic drugs.
Its figures suggested the number appearing on sale was increasing with 40 new substances emerging in 2010 compared to just 13 in 2008.
The illicit drug trade in the UK is estimated by the Home Office to be worth more than £7 billion and is mainly controlled by organised crime.
Young adults and particularly club goers are thought to be increasingly turning to legal highs as alternatives to drugs such as cocaine.
August 25, 2013
Richard Gray | The Telegraph
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