"ALTERNATIVE lifestyle" shops around the country have been selling out of new legal drugs which recreational users are substituting for cocaine.
They are labelled as plant food or novelty bath salts "not for human consumption".
Their user-friendly names are Charge, White Ice or Snowblow and they cost about €30 a gram.
Synthesised in laboratories to mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines, legal powder substances on sale in head shops – retail outlets that specialise in drug paraphernalia – are the latest craze to hit the legal drugs trade.
Industry sources have indicated sales of the substances – Snowblow is advertised as a BZP-free Columbian powder substitute – have skyrocketed in recent months, sometimes even selling out on busy weekends.
Ingredients, according to their packaging, are caffeine and other herbal extracts and vitamins, but it is known they contain drugs called flephedrone mephedrone, street name mcat, or methylone.
The rise in mephedrone use came following the ban of another drug, BZP, in March last year.
Mephedrone has already been banned in Sweden (where it was linked to the death of a young woman in 2008), Denmark and Israel.
But it is legal elsewhere because it is not derived from any of the banned Class A drugs.
It comes instead from a compound of cathinone, which is a Class C drug, and derivatives of this drug are not currently controlled.
While little is known about the drugs, side-effects are said to include nose bleeds, nose burns, hallucinations, blood circulation problems, rashes, anxiety, paranoia, fits and delusions.
Senior lecturer in pharmacology at University College Cork, Dr John Cryan, said products like Charge and White Ice comprise chemicals which are structurally not so different from those used in illicit substances.
"These are dangerous drugs to be playing around with especially in combination with alcohol."
Emergency Department consultant Dr Chris Luke said the public needed to be aware that the products were untested and potentially lethal.
In December six young people were admitted to Cork University Hospital suffering the ill-effects of herbal highs. Dr Luke said he was "increasingly agitated and annoyed" by the head shop retailers.
By Jennifer Hough
January 11, 2010
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Sales of legal drugs that mimic cocaine skyrocket