YOUNG PEOPLE using 'legal highs' openly available in a shop in Enniskillen claim the drugs have much the same effect as cannabis and yet are easily accessed by teenagers as young as 13.
Three young users of the drugs, some of which are better known as 'Wild Cats' or 'Doves', told the Herald that they could be purchased like sweets in a shop here, despite the effect of taking the drugs being described as 'stronger than using cannabis'.
One user told us that young people, some as young as 13 and 14, were experimenting with the drugs. He said there was a fear that these young people may progress to experimenting with something stronger that wasn't legal.
When we entered the shop and asked to purchase one of these legal drugs, asking for a Wild Cat, we were shown to a display cabinet where four different types of the legal drugs were for sale. These included wild cats, doves, salvia and a snow labelled drug. The cheapest to purchase was a Wild Cat, costing £15 for half a gram. The others ranged from £25 to £40. The purchase was as one of our users suggests, as simple as buying sweets but the packaging on the label was not as easy to digest. The front of the small Wild Cat package read 'Re-vitalising bath salts. Fine powder from'. The back read 'Just add to bath to guarantee a totally euphoric experience. Make sure to use plently of water. Not for human consumption'. How we were meant to take this drug and what the side effects are, were neither explained on the package or by the selling agent.
Concern about the legal highs comes as police in the county this week issued a warning to shop owners who sell the legal drugs that a change in the law has made some of the products illegal.
Inspector Roy Robinson, the sector commander, said officers had called at a number of shops in the county to advise proprietors of the changes. He said that certain substances that had legal were now classed as controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
"The substances are GBL (Gamma-Butyrolactone) and its like chemical 1,4-Butanediol (1,4-BD) when sold for human consumption, synthetic cannabinoids, often found in 'Spice' or similar products, and BZP (Benzylpiperazine) and other related piperazines, such as mCPP and TFMPP.
"As of December 23, any sale of synthetic cannabinoids, BZP and related piperazines is a criminal offence. This also includes possessing such substances with intent to supply them, being concerned in their supply, or offering to supply them. The sale of GBL and 1,4-BD for human consumption was also made a criminal offence from this date.
"The law expects that proprietors should be aware of the contents of the products that they are selling, and of course ignorance of the law is no defence.
"Stocks of these substances, or products that that may contain them, should be handed in to police. If, at a future inspection, substances that were banned in December are found, proprietors will be reported to the PPS for prosecution".
The shop owner who stocked the legal drugs told us as a prospective customer, that she 'wouldn't sell them if they were illegal', adding that 'they were good for keeping you buzzing'.
But on the topic of the stronger 'salvia' (leaf form) legal drug which comes in various different strengths, they pointed to the strongest available being Salvia 50x.
The shop owner said the Wild Cats drug was the most popular seller with customers who bought it usually returning for more.
As well as being sold in shops, legal highs are also readily available on the internet and can be dispatched straight to the customer's door.
Three users from the county explained how they felt after taking the legal highs.
The first, a male aged 17 told us he 'enjoyed the experience'.
"There's a nice high off it, it's stronger than just smoking cannabis and it doesn't leave you as tired. I suppose it's got more of an ecstasy effect.
"The first thing I noticed was the smell, it was so strong, like horrible incense or pot pouri or something. "I've done it a couple of times. I just mixed it with tobacco and rolled it in the same way as I would cannabis."
But a second user, a 21-year-old male, told us he didn't enjoy the legal high drug he tested: "It made me feel sick. It was weird, not nice. I wouldn't do it again, I wouldn't be bothered wasting my time."
And a third user, a 17-year-old boy told us the drugs were very accessible.
"They are so easy to buy, you just walk on up to the counter and ask for them as if they are as innocent as a bag of sweets. There's no hangover or come down, you just feel completely normal the next day."
"There seems to be quite a young crowd experimenting with them, anything from 13 or 14 years onwards, which is worrying because they may progress to something stronger and most likely illegal."
"They seemed like a great idea at the time, with all the positive effects of illegal drugs but without the negatives."
BY KATIE CRUIKSHANK AND NUALA MCALOON
March 3, 2010