A drug banned from four European countries is freely available at shops across Brighton.
Spice, which has been outlawed in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and even Holland, remains legal in the UK, although Home Office is reviewing its status.
Its potent ingredient is the chemical JWH-018 - a relative of THC - the substance which provides “the high” in cannabis.
But the manufactured equivalent is known to be four or five times stronger.
A Home Office spokeswoman told The Argus its Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will be briefed on Spice at its very next meeting.
She said: “The Home Office is monitoring the use of Spice both in this country and elsewhere in the EU.
“The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has been monitoring its use since the end of 2007 and intends to hold a briefing session on it for experts during the spring, in which the UK will participate.”
Marketed as incense and clearly labelled as not for human consumption, it is displayed alongside smoking papers and other “legal highs”.
Its popularity as a recreational drug has spread widely through internet forums, and hundreds of slickly marketed sachets – branded as Spice Gold, Diamond and Silver - are sold in Brighton each week.
While most on-line commentators rave about its cannabis-like effect, others claim to have suffered panic attacks.
The Argus has established that at least four shops in the city sell the product - Marketplace, Meeting House Lane; The Guarana Bar, Sydney Street; Taylors Tobacconists, Bond Street; and Smokers Heaven, Queens Road.
The owner of one Brighton shop selling Spice, who asked not to be named, complained the Government had allowed alcohol consumption to grow almost unabated while cracking down on products like Magic Mushrooms, which were briefly legal in the UK, before being banned in 2005.
When asked about Spice, he said: “It is very popular. It is the one effective smoking product to have come on the market and customers have been waiting a long time for a viable, legal alternative.
“People do not want to break the law and they do not want cannabis to show up in medicals.
“If you are an adult, you should have the right to choose how you want to relax.”
But he expressed concern that publicity could lead to a Government ban.
Like the Home Office, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said it was also investigating whether Spice should be classed as a medicinal product.
The owner of Marketplace, an Aladdin’s cave of legal highs and smoking paraphernalia, called on the Government to clarify the drug’s status.
He said: “It would be handy if we had some guidance from the Government.”
Among the fine cigars and pipe tobacco, Bob Caulfield also sells Spice from his shop, Taylors tobacconists, Bond Street.
He has been stocking it for more than a year and sells around 30 packets a week.
He said: “It is mainly regular customers who come in to buy it.
“It means people do not need to go to a back street and hand over a £20 note.
“One of my customers says he goes and buys a coffee and has a smoke in the park legally.”
While only four European countries have banned JWH-018, some Spice sellers refuse to export the products to Norway, Sweden and United States, where its status is unclear. It has also been banned from Jersey from November.
Sussex Police said it had come across its radar but only on a handful of occasions.
By Lawrence Marzouk
February 20, 2009