A legal herbal drug which is sold around the country is to be banned after studies showed that it is as powerful as some strains of strong cannabis.
Spice, a herbal smoking mixture, is sold on the internet and in “head shops” as a legal high and nicotine-free smoke. In some cases it is even advertised as an “aromatic pot pourri”.
The smoking mixture, which has synthetic additives, comes slickly packaged in sealed pouches — holding just under an ounce — at a cost of about £30.
Although it purports to be an entirely natural mix of herbs and plants including Baybean and vanilla, the marijuana-type high that users get from Spice comes from a synthetic cannabinoid four or five times as potent as THC, the main psyschoactive substance in cannabis.
Today the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Government’s official drug adviser, will recommend to Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, that Spice be added to the list of prohibited drugs.
Ministers are then expected to bring forward legislation in the autumn to ban the drug. The decision to recommend a ban on Spice is likely to be followed by action to outlaw other legal highs.
Earlier this year Jacqui Smith, when she was Home Secretary, expressed her concern at the wide and largely unregulated market in alternative drugs that she said were being sold in “head shops” as so-called legal highs.
Head shops are retailers specialising in drug paraphernalia and New Age herbs, as well as counter-culture magazines, music and clothing.
Ms Smith specifically asked for advice on Spice, which had first been imported from China in 2006, before batches were seized in Sweden, Switzerland and Jersey. The drug was banned in Germany, Austria and France, early this year.
Professor Leslie Iversen, chairman of the technical committee of the Advisory Council, said: “We all view this as being particularly serious. It is a very clever product, sold as a herbal smoking mixture from China, but containing chemicals which can be a lot more potent than cannabis.”
He told the Oxford Mail: “Users have no idea what they are taking. As a result they are running a considerable risk of overdosing, which is not only unpleasant, but potentially quite dangerous.”
Users tend to smoke Spice in joints with a bit of tobacco, as smokers do with cannabis. Unlike cannabis it takes some time to produce an effect.
Early last year the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs early warning system, which links police, customs officials and drug specialists in the EU, identified a dozen online distributors, half of them based in Britain.
Martin Barnes, chief executive of the charity DrugScope, said: “Spice products are deliberately manufactured to mimic the effects of cannabis, and the limited research available suggests that there are potential harms attached with their use.”
He added: “Exploring control options for the substances could remove the incentive for the manufacture and supply of Spice as it would no longer be available as a legal alternative to cannabis.”
Other 'legal highs'
Salvia divinorum Rare plant found in Mexican mountains, smoked or chewed to give intense hallucinations. Drew controversy after suicide of American teenager who had used it. Banned in some US states and Australia
Snow Blow Caffeine-based powder snorted to give an energetic, lively high. May cause dehydration and raise heart rate
Mephedrone Marketed as “plant food”, 4-methylmethcathinone is a stimulant described as giving experiences similar to crystal meth. Banned in Sweden after death of 18-year old woman. Widespread popularity led Tayside police to warn clubbers about it last month
Happy caps “Party pills” containing geranium extract and caffeine marketed to boost energy and “heighten awareness”
Kratom Powdered extract from plants grown in Thailand. Narcotic with stimulant effects, though can work as sedative at higher doses with similar effects to opiates. Controlled in some areas of southeast Asia
Sources: Shiva Head Shop, Herbal Highs, CoffeeSh0p, Research Chemicals, Times archive
By Richord Ford
August 12, 2009