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Legal but lethal: So-called 'legal highs' are every bit as deadly as heroin and cocai

By catseye, Jan 28, 2011 | | |
  1. catseye
    Alongside the mobile phone shops and tourist restaurants in London’s historic Greenwich,one store is all understated, upmarket chic.

    With an elegant wooden facade and intriguing trinkets in the window, customers entering Shiva — named after a Hindu deity — can browse among hippyish curiosities, from pendants offering spiritual healing to hats made from hemp.

    The shop is unashamedly aimed at wealthy customers — with all international credit cards accepted, it couldn’t be further from a dodgy, cash-only establishment — while the staff are unstintingly attentive to the steady flow of young, fashionably-dressed customers.

    Yet the real reason for the success of this business lies stacked on shelves behind the counter: small packets of strange substances, wrapped in colourful packaging, with exotic names such as Diablo, Blessed, Snow Blow, Hypnotic State Of Trance and Trip-e Happy Caps.

    Known as ‘legal highs’, these drugs are supposedly safe — the chemical equivalent of a boozy lunch, but without a hangover or any lasting ill-effects. And business is booming as foreign ‘entrepreneurs’ cynically market these substances to middle-class young Britons.


    These concoctions are flooding our streets — a new report found that the number of legal highs in the country rose from 13 in 2008 to 40 last year — the craze sweeping pubs, clubs and private parties, fuelled by the myth that these pills can be taken with no risk to body or mind.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Doctors believe that these drugs could lead to psychosis, liver damage and even death — warnings which are going unheeded by *consumers, and the Government.

    Those in favour of ‘legal highs’ argue that, as an estimated three million people regularly use ‘recreational drugs’, shouldn’t we accept it’s a fact of life? Yet one crucial fact has been omitted by the wealthy gurus behind this ‘harmless’ new multi-million-pound business: the truth.


    While both Labour and the Coalition have banned some drugs — such as mephedrone, or meow meow, which was outlawed last year after being linked to a number of deaths — scientists from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (the panel that recommends which drugs should be banned) are often months and years behind unscrupulous scientists.

    ‘The legal high manufacturers are always one step ahead,’ admits one government drugs adviser.

    ‘It’s like a grandad who knows nothing about drugs searching a teenager’s bedroom when they don’t really know what they are looking for.’

    Ever greater numbers of customers are seduced by a sales pitch that is clever, reassuring and sophisticated.

    ‘We offer our customers the best in alternative recreation products,’ says Shiva’s official website. ‘Blow your mind on legal highs and, most importantly, free your soul!’

    But it is liberating cash that’s the real reason for the boom in this disturbing business. With users risking fines or imprisonment for taking cocaine, cannabis or ecstasy, the new legal high barons are capitalising on the fact that their products carry no risk of arrest.

    That means premium prices — and profits. For instance, a small packet of Blast Off — a herbal marijuana substitute — costs £30, more than four times the price of the same amount of marijuana. The assistant says it is worth every penny, pointing out it has had rave reviews.

    ‘Wow, just wow,’ wrote one satisfied customer on Shiva’s website. ‘We had an incredible journey. At some point, we ended up in Hyde Park in the middle of the night thinking we were being attacked by the trees. Excellent product.’

    Those in favour of ‘legal highs’ argue that, as an estimated three million people regularly use ‘recreational drugs’, shouldn’t we accept it’s a fact of life and provide safe alternatives?

    Yet one crucial fact has been omitted by the wealthy marketing gurus behind this ‘harmless’ new multi-million-pound business: the truth.

    It is unclear where the products sold at Shiva are sourced. However, far from being a benign, risk-free way of taking drugs, the growing army of British users are risking their lives by ingesting potentially lethal cocktails of chemicals, often concocted by corrupt pharmacists working in China and India.

    Indeed, such is their expertise that they are involved in what’s been dubbed a ‘chemical arms race’ — creating new drugs to circumvent existing laws and outfox the authorities.

    Medical studies into legal highs report that one in four people has had horrific side-effects — extreme paranoia, insomnia and cases where the user’s feet and hands have turned blue from lack of blood.


    However, many doctors believe that some ‘legal’ and ‘herbal’ highs are often as dangerous as illegal drugs.

    Of course, the manufacturers and importers of the drugs insist there is no health risk — but try telling that to Dr Paul Dargan, head of toxicology at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital’s Poisons Unit in London.

    He has seen patients rushed to accident and emergency with palpitations, paranoia, dehydration and liver damage after taking legal highs.

    ‘We are getting individuals presenting with clinical features that are very similar to established recreational drugs such as ecstasy, amphetamine, cocaine and ketamine,’ says Dr Dargan.

    How has this happened? With police and politicians waging the so-called war on illegal drugs during the Nineties, crime syndicates started hiring unethical scientists — many of them working in China and the Far East — to develop drugs outside the legislation of most Western countries.

    In a rare insight into their activities, a Daily Mail researcher posing as a trader in China was offered hundreds of kilos of chemicals for ‘legal highs’ — as well as banned drugs such as meow meow.

    Our researcher witnessed how Chinese chemists are working to evade new laws. At a secret laboratory near Shanghai international airport, he watched as three full-time pharmacists designed drugs with the sole aim of getting around the law.

    The chemists explained how they were able to modify existing banned substances simply by changing the placement of a new molecule in an existing drug, thus creating a new legal high not covered by any laws.

    Once the drugs are designed, the new compounds are taken to a factory a three-hour drive from the laboratory. There, in a small, blue-roofed building, 65 people were employed to produce two tons of legal highs a month.

    Salesmen such as ‘Mr Ding’, who said he was from a major pharmaceutical corporation, offered us a bewildering array of chemicals for pills and potions.

    He said: ‘I have many drugs. PV1-2, M1-2, M2-2, AM-2201, JWH203, 4-FA, FMA, MDAR, MBPV, and FMC — they are all available.’

    Offering a ‘generous discount’ on bulk orders, Mr Ding stressed that it would not be a problem to supply tens of kilos per month. ‘You must come to Nanjing,’ he urged. ‘I can show you all of my products.’

    The drugs developed by these chemists work in exactly the same way as illegal drugs — by stimulating the chemical receptors in the brain.

    The drugs activate the serotonin receptor, which is also targeted by amphetamines and ecstasy — both drugs that have been linked to hundreds of deaths.

    They trigger the release of dopamine, the ‘pleasure’ chemical which controls the nervous system and produces a massive increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

    Medical studies into legal highs report that one in four people has had horrific side-effects — extreme paranoia, insomnia and cases where the user’s feet and hands have turned blue from lack of blood.

    In one trial, a human guinea pig had to be hospitalised for weeks after being hit ‘by an adrenaline surge into my heart’. Some contain the derivative of the drug khat, a hallucinogenic plant chewed before battle by East African warlords.

    ‘There is no such thing as a safe drug. I have never found something where you get these highs and there are no negative effects — either mentally or physically.'

    One of the ‘pioneers’ of this dubious trade is Matt Bowden, a former musician from New Zealand who discovered BZP — the compound in the first generation of ‘legal highs’ — in 1996.

    He undertook his research with a chemist friend after a member of his family died from taking ecstasy during the rave scene of the Nineties. He had also seen a drug addict friend commit suicide by disembowelling himself with a samurai sword at a party.

    Still addicted to crystal methamphetamine — a lethal drug linked to brain damage — Bowden insists the new drugs are a force for good, and should remain legal.

    ‘If we accept that people have the right to experiment with their minds, just as they try paragliding or drag racing, then it is the responsibility of governments to ensure that they have access to well-designed drugs,’ he says.

    ‘Nonsense,’ says John McKeown, a renowned psychologist and former addict.

    ‘There is no such thing as a safe drug. I have never found something where you get these highs and there are no negative effects — either mentally or physically.

    ‘In my experience, there are many people who use one supposedly safe drug like cannabis and become addicted. I know plenty of people who have gone on to heroin.

    ‘All drugs make you open to other experiences.’

    The drug manufacturers know the truth. At the North London headquarters of Everyone Does It, an internet-based mail order company for legal highs which imports drugs via Amsterdam, one sharp-suited manager gave the game away.

    Asked why many of his products say on the packet ‘not for human consumption’, the man laughed and said that was to ensure there was ‘no comeback’ if someone became ill from taking them.

    Claims that ‘legal highs’ are non-addictive are now in serious doubt. In a study of rhesus monkeys, the animals fed the chemicals in ‘legal highs’ repeatedly demanded more — a sign of addiction.

    The test results were exactly the same for addiction to cocaine, while other legal highs tested on rats led to them repeatedly attacking each other. These rodents had to be separated before they killed each other.

    ‘While everybody knows drugs such as heroin are unsafe, legal highs are encouraging people to risk their physical and mental wellbeing based on false information,’ says Dr John Ramsey, a specialist at St George’s Hospital in London.

    ‘There are packets of tablets and capsules that are sold as herbal highs, but are in no way herbal. The contents on the packet bear very little relation to what’s in them,’ he says.

    Even the legality of these drugs is in doubt. ‘Some are sold as “legal highs”, but may not be legal,’ says Dr Ramsey.

    Maryon Stewart, whose medical student daughter Hester died after taking the legal ‘party drugGBL in April 2009, last night accused unscrupulous chemists of ‘profiting from and exploiting our kids’.

    Now a campaigner to raise awareness about the perils of legal highs, Mrs Stewart said: ‘We can’t let this go on — our kids are in danger and neither they nor their parents have a clue.’

    Pointing out that there is not even a government lab capable of analysing the contents of these drugs, she added: ‘The contents vary from week to week — often a cocktail of different substances that we know can cause psychosis and other illnesses in the short term, and potentially terrible damage in the long term. People need to wake up.’

    But even if the Government does crack down on these drugs, Chinese chemists are ahead of the game, with dozens of new products already on the markets and countless more in the pipeline.

    Kratom, a so-called herbal speedball which was only being ‘trialled’ as little as two years ago, is now openly on sale.

    Again, this drug works by attaching itself to the same opiate receptor as heroin and crack cocaine.

    Bizarrely, many so-called recreational drug users will not touch these legal highs — for health and safety reasons.

    In a pub notorious for drugs in Brixton, South London, one dealer, known to his clients as Mister T, was happy to sip Guinness and candidly debate the ethics of the booming business of legal drugs:

    ‘Come on, mate! It’s posh kids who are conflicted — they want to take drugs but they want to be legal so it doesn’t spoil their careers as lawyers later.’

    With a look of derision, he added: ‘No real person would waste their money — it’s far too expensive when you can get the real thing for less.

    ‘And there’s a safety issue too — you don’t know what’s in this stuff. Legal highs? Madness, mate, madness.’


    Mail Online
    By Andrew Malone with additional reporting by Richard Jones
    Last updated at 9:35 AM on 27th January 2011
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1350921/Legal-lethal-So-called-legal-highs-bit-deadly-heroin-cocaine.html#

    Image 1: Medical student Hester Stewart, who died in April, 2009 at the age of 21 after taking GBL
    Image 2: Pharmacists are continually developing chemical recipes that circumvent the laws on banned substances
    Image 3: Supposedly safe, the number of 'legal high' drugs available on the market has shot up in the last three years


Comments

  1. Moving Pictures
    Re: Legal but lethal: So-called 'legal highs' are every bit as deadly as heroin and c

    The only thing of intrest in this article is the reports supposed meeting with the Chinese chemist. But the rest has already been said a million times. I agree those bath salt deals are just as dangerous as speed or coke but the media is way over blowing it. And everytime the compare the legal highs to speed, I wonder how many kids are gonna think "wow, I want to try that!". Seriously, is it that the drugs keep getting more popular until the media catches on or that the drugs get more popular because the media catches on? Take DXM for example. There was a product from the '50s to the '70s called Romalar that was straight dxm in a pill. It was pulled from the market in the mid-seventies because of abuse. Hunter Thompson mentions it in Fear and Loathing in L.V. So people have been abusing dxm for a good 40-50 years. But it didn't become that popular until the early 2000's when the media picked up on it. Now every kid in America knows about dxm.

    And what does Kratom have to do with the article?? It is not physically dangerous at all. Yet it binds to the same opiate receptors as crack-cocaine?? What? Crack binds to opiate receptors!?!? Kratom should be the least of these people's worries. It's probably next on the chopping block in the UK though.

    I find it almost funny that in a country like the UK where you can buy as much codeine tablets as you want and CWE them to your heart's content that "legal highs" are so big over there. I guess that's just the junkie in me though.
  2. catseye
    Re: Legal but lethal: So-called 'legal highs' are every bit as deadly as heroin and c

    :s yeah that's the bit that got me too...crack binding to opiate receptors, ffs!
    I wouldn't be surprised if Kratom is banned within the next few months...it is getting far too much media attention for the gov't to ignore.
    On a side note I remember moving here from the States and walking into a chemist only to see a variety of codeine products lining the shelves - I couldn't believe my eyes, it was something to behold :laugh:
  3. enquirewithin
    Re: Legal but lethal: So-called 'legal highs' are every bit as deadly as heroin and c

    Is codeine supposed to be fun? :(

    As if the Guinness family hasn't profited enormously our of selling a drug that has ruined countless lives!
  4. catseye
    Re: Legal but lethal: So-called 'legal highs' are every bit as deadly as heroin and c

    Oh no, I didn't mean to imply that it was 'fun' and I'm pretty sure MP didn't either! I just meant that coming from a country where it is so tightly regulated to walking into a chain pharmacy here in the UK and seeing it on the shelves was a shock to the system, ie couldn't believe my eyes, thought there was a mistake! It certainly isn't fun, and far too many people really put themselves in danger as a result of the APAP included :(
  5. Moving Pictures
    Re: Legal but lethal: So-called 'legal highs' are every bit as deadly as heroin and c

    Some of us find it fun...
  6. gmeziscool2354
    Re: Legal but lethal: So-called 'legal highs' are every bit as deadly as heroin and c

    terrible ariicle. the british system of drugs is a lot different than over here in the US but equally as double-speak and completely stupid.

    lets play the "count how many blatant errors there are" in this article
  7. Smeg
    Re: Legal but lethal: So-called 'legal highs' are every bit as deadly as heroin and c

    On seeing the stupid-arsed headline I immediately scrolled down to see which of three possible "newspapers" it might be. The usual suspects were The Sun, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Mail.

    Of course the latter was the most likely to espouse this kind of shite to kindle and ignite the desired moral panic that this publication is notorious for.

    The Mail poses as a reputable broadsheet reporting real news. It is in fact the champion of the stupid in these Islands.

    Moving Pictures is near enough spot on in his initial reply regarding the nature of the wankers' press in the UK: decrying whilst simultaneously advertising forbidden fruit here in order to bring about self fulfilling (very often falsified) prophecies.

    Just try using any internet search engine to find Daily Mail + lies to witness the well researched malignancy of this paper.
  8. catseye
    Re: Legal but lethal: So-called 'legal highs' are every bit as deadly as heroin and c

    ^^ It never ceases to disturb and amaze me, the amount of so-called "factual" articles that run in the above-mentioned publications that are scare-mongering, inflammatory, sensationalistic rubbish...and some people truly believe it because 'it must be true if its in the newspaper'! :(
  9. Smeg
    Re: Legal but lethal: So-called 'legal highs' are every bit as deadly as heroin and c

    The readership of the above publications is huge over here running into millions, and many are unflinchingly convinced of their authenticity when it comes to recreational drugs and legal highs.

    It is not uncommon for Red to hear the same sanctimonious tone from acquaintances who subscribe to these papers when expressing their inaccurate opinions regarding drugs and long propogated tabloid myths.

    Red would actually go so far as to say that there is a tradition (a culture even) of widespread acceptance of the pious faux-oracular diatribes of the gutter press.

    Any sensible national debate or discussion is significantly hampered by this impediment to real journalism, and more scientifically informed education.

    What made Red smirk with wry derision was the stereotypical scenario depicted of the Brixton pub with the shady "Mr T".
  10. mickey_bee
    Re: Legal but lethal: So-called 'legal highs' are every bit as deadly as heroin and c

    Remember this is from *The Daily Mail* people. - In the UK The Daily Mail is used predominantly as toilet paper not news-paper.

    No one with any respectability whatsoever in the UK would ever quote a source or article from the Daily Mail - they'd be laughed out of the room.
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