A total 180 pupils at one secondary school have been off sick in the last four months after taking the legal party drug mephedrone, police have claimed.
The potentially lethal substance is sold legally as a fertiliser but produces a similar high to ecstasy if ingested.
Police say children as young as eight are regular users.
Mephedrone - also known as Miaow or M-cat - costs as little as £4 per gram and comes in powder, crystal or liquid form.
Today it emerged a secondary school in north west Leicestershire has seen 180 pupils skip classes after taking the drug.
Head teachers in Leicestershire are so worried about the spiralling numbers of students taking the drug they are calling for a crisis conference to discuss how to tackle the problem.
Steve Jackson, Drug Liaison officer for Leicestershire Police, said: 'This is an emerging drug which is causing us great concern.
'We shouldn't be fooled by the fact it is legal. It is seriously nasty stuff that is making a lot of people violently ill.
'Head teachers are very worried about it and have called for a conference on what to do to stop young people taking it.
'We have had 180 pupils off ill because of this stuff and that's just at one school.
'It's only one chemical strand away from being something that would be classified as an illegal drug.
'The age range can be from eight or nine up to their 20s.
'When you take it, the urge to re-dose is very strong and the more you take, the more dangerous it is.'
Martin Wiese, consultant emergency physician at Leicester Royal Infirmary, said a number of people had been brought in suffering from the effects of taking mephedrone.
He said: 'We have certainly seen some cases where it has definitely been established that it has been taken.
'There have no doubt been others and there will probably be more and more given its growing popularity.
'There is no doubt it can kill. It over-stimulates the heart and the nervous system and can cause fits, a sensation of pounding, anxiety and paranoia. Many countries in central Europe are already going down the road to making it illegal.'
Mr Jackson said: 'It's a plant fertilizer in powder form that normally goes on tomatoes and bonsai trees.
'I think it will eventually become an illegal substance but until that time the challenge is to educate young people who believe there are no risks in taking it because it is not against the law.
'Anyone caught carrying a bag of this stuff could be arrested because to any police officer it appears just as cocaine does.
'They would remain on bail until testing has proved what it is.'
The Home Office is taking advice from the Advisory Council for Drugs on whether mephedrone should be made illegal.
Leicestershire County Council said it is looking at ways to prevent youngsters using the drug.
A spokeswoman said: 'We're aware of issues surrounding mephedrone and are working to make sure that young people are aware of the associated risks, regardless of its legal status.
'This includes exploring legislation to limit availability locally, producing leaflets, boosting outreach work, working with schools to highlight the issue and incorporating mephedrone into drug education lessons.'
Mephedrone has been blamed for a number of deaths in Britain including 14-year-old Gabrielle Price who died after taking the drug at a house party in Brighton last November.
March 8, 2010
Dear Drugs-Forum readers: We are a small non-profit that runs one of the most read drug information & addiction help websites in the world. We serve over 4 million readers per month, and have costs like all popular websites: servers, hosting, licenses and software. To protect our independence we do not run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations which average $25. If everyone reading this would donate $5 then this fund raiser would be done in an hour. If Drugs-Forum is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. Donations are currently not sufficient to pay our bills and keep the site up. Your help is most welcome. Thank you.
Police reveal 180 pupils at one school off sick after taking legal 'Meow Meow' party