The War on Designer Drugs: Britain Bans Legal Highs

By chillinwill · Aug 29, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    In Britain, anyone looking to get high without the criminal side effects can go online or walk into a head shop and buy perfectly legal alternatives to a whole host of illegal drugs, from marijuana to ecstasy to cocaine. But not for long. On Tuesday, Aug. 25, the U.K. government announced it is set to ban these so-called legal highs by the end of the year.

    The ban on designer drugs such as stimulant BZP, narcotic alternative gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) and cannabis imitator Spice is being described as a precautionary measure, with the aim of getting the substances off the shelves before they've gained much notoriety — and before thorough studies have been done on how much harm they do to users.

    With this new legislation, Britain joins the growing number of European countries that have tackled legal highs over the past several years. For now, dozens of U.K.-based websites and shops are still free to market and sell alternatives to illegal drugs and to ship them to any country that doesn't yet prohibit them. It's these legal drug dealers that the British ban seeks to target. "The priority will be to chase suppliers rather than users," says Martin Barnes, head of Drugscope, a nonprofit that studies drug use in the U.K., and a member of the advisory board that recommended the new bans.

    The U.S. has long had an answer to cutting off the supply of legal highs: a blanket law that bans not just one particular drug but any drug that resembles it. The Analogue Drug Act of 1986 automatically outlaws any drug "substantially similar" to an illegal drug in either composition or effect. The U.K. is moving closer to the U.S. model, but instead of a blanket ban, the government is crafting several smaller laws to cover whole families of drugs. Cannabinoids will join marijuana as a Class B drug, which will mean fines or up to five years in prison for possession and up to 14 years for dealing. BZP and GBL, meanwhile, will be Class C: possession could lead to a fine or up to two years in prison, and dealing comes with a sentence of up to 14 years.

    Britain's war on legal highs started in May with talk of a ban on Spice. The Chinese smoking blend is generally described as herbal, but tests carried out in German labs have shown that its herbal mix is sprayed with designer chemicals that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, but to a more potent effect. France, Germany and Austria have recently outlawed the sale of Spice, and the U.K. now plans to ban not just that specific cannabis substitute but all synthetic cannabinoids — a class of designer drugs structurally resembling cannabis — hoping to nip offshoots in the bud.

    "The experience of Spice shows us that it really is possible to come up with these new substances in a laboratory," says Barnes. He notes, however, that in cases like these, if manufacturers were to change their marketing and use similar compounds to create new drugs, "you could essentially only enforce the law by catching the [new] product and testing it."

    So the legislation announced on Tuesday could spark a cat-and-mouse game, with manufacturers rushing to produce new drugs faster than lawmakers can prohibit them. An example of this seemingly endless cycle is the ban on BZP, a stimulant also known as 1-benzylpiperazine. The E.U. announced last year that all member states should ban BZP by March 2009 (lagging five years behind the U.S.). Like Britain, several other E.U. states still haven't complied, but already BZP "alternatives" are being advertised all over legal-high-vendor websites. It's unknown what exactly is in these BZP imitators, but if they're related to piperazines, manufacturers will have to find another alternative, as these too will fall under the new British ban. (Read: "Pot: Now Starring in Your Favorite Movie.")

    Drugscope's Barnes worries that by instituting blanket bans instead of targeting specific designer drugs, U.K. lawmakers will have to walk a fine line between trying to stay one step ahead of manufacturers and classifying drugs too hastily, especially those that haven't yet been proved to be harmful to users. Once drugs are classified, they rarely get downgraded or returned to legal status, says Barnes, owing more to political than scientific will. "Legislation is a blunt instrument," he says. "If we go down the route where we simply outlaw on the basis of potential harm, the heavy weight of the law might not always be a pragmatic response."

    But with recent headlines showing that some legal highs are far from harmless, most in Britain are likely to support the new ban. Earlier this year, BZP was linked to the death of a 22-year-old British man who had reportedly also taken ecstasy. GBL, which is used legitimately as an industrial cleaning agent but is touted as a substitute for the outlawed date-rape drug GHB, has also garnered attention in the U.K. for its role in the death of a 21-year-old woman whose mother has crusaded to outlaw the chemical. "The key message to get across to young people [is], Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's safe," the victim's mother, Maryon Stewart, told the BBC.

    An awareness campaign highlighting the risks of legal drugs, especially when they are mixed with alcohol, will kick off in September to coincide with the start of the university year. The U.K.'s drug czar, David Nutt, said in a statement that the drug advisory council would continue looking into other legal highs throughout the next year. At the top of the list will be mephedrone and its derivatives. Mephedrone, which can be used as plant food, is sold on legal-high sites as an alternative to cocaine. (See a graphic on addiction and the brain.)

    It seems the war against legal highs, like the war against the illegal drugs they're intended to replace, is set to be a long one.

    By Gaëlle Faure
    August 27, 2009

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  1. cra$h
    Well, can't say we didn't see it commin. There's been a lot of news recently especially in the UK about these. Chill you probably brought up most of them haha. But it's ashame to see that they're not researching medicinal value of these chemicals....
  2. Alfa
    This reads to me as that we will get a new analog law for ketones and likely phenethylamines in 2010.
  3. nibble
    Pharmaceutical companies will not be happy with this, preemptively banning whole classes of drugs seriously restricts genuine research. Cannabinoids especially are a class that show huge promise, this legislation will make it very difficult to develop and perform further research with them. There would of course still be compounds that fall out of the scope of such a cannabinoid ban but it narrows the potential candidates significantly.
  4. Terrapinzflyer
  5. Subvert
    Ouch, SWIM really enjoys the occasional dab of Methylone,
    It's a wonderful alternative to E simply because It's unadulterated and has similar subjective effects.

    So the bottom line is...
    Nobody is allowed to get high on anything other than alcohol.
  6. Subvert
    Well that's just great, Bravo...
  7. Alfa
  8. Terrapinzflyer
    ^^^ turtle added the press release to the archive and changed the link in the earlier post.

    Turtle can not seem to add the pdf - his browser just hangs (safari 4.0.3 mac os 10.4.11) Does not seem to be a connectivity issue- can browse the forum fine whil waiting for it to add to the archive :confused:

    can someone please add the pdf for turtle and post the link here?
  9. salviablue
  10. imyourlittlebare
    Its really a shame. Well, if all else fails. Pray mexico falls to the drug cartells or legalizes drugs so there are a few places in the world where people could go to legally try some stuff. Its ridiculous. People are curious. Although you cant get BZP in the U.S., swim was always happy for people overseas who had access to it legally. I thought "good for them, an alternative thats fairly safe and finally a setting where its i leave you alone you leave me alone" Bummer. Welcome to the United States of American Europe.
  11. lloydsLSD
    If those clueless snob cunts had ever taken a legal high that contained Piperazines then they would probably start body popping and fingering each other. Ban that shit please and kill all the dealers who sell it as ecstasy. Leave the rest alone.
  12. MrG
    Really? Or maybe, just maybe, that's complete and utter nonsense and, whilst it might be marketed as plant food, it is likely to do as much good for the plant as it would for me to have a relax in a nice hot tub fragranced with headshop 'bath salts'.
  13. Alfa
    Using it as bath salt is probably the last thing in the world it can be used for, regarding the purple knees people get from mephedrone. I wonder what will happen if the first person starts to actually use it as a bath salt.
  14. Zentaurus41
    I wonder how long it is now till MHRB and cacti become illegal in dry form.
  15. pride345
    And we have a so called "democracy"?
  16. bean.
    SWIM got curious about the whole 'plant food' factor. It works. SWIM had some nice morning glory seeds growing and gave a nice sprinkle of mephedrone to only half of the seedlings. These seedlings shot up quicker than the others. Suppose it isn't definite but seems to work.
  17. kailey_elise there's 1 death with BZP & it was polydrug use, & concern about 1 death with we're gonna ban it outright.

    Let me see...and just how many deaths from alcohol in the last year? And how many more with alcohol as a contributing factor?!?!

    Ah, this is EXACTLY what's needed, but then people might have to tell the truth about drugs. But the point is EDUCATION would go a loooooooong way in reducing MANY of the harms that come with drugs, legal or illicit.

    ~Kailey Elise
  18. barafundle
    it really pisses me off because banning these "legal highs" will result in either one of 2 things,or will be made illigally and driven underground or 2.more people might take illigal drugs when before they might not.
    If the govt keeps them legal they can monitor them which keeps them safer.
    Thats my tuppence worth anyway lol
  19. Insane Hippy
    Good, these alternatives are even more dangerous and cause even more issues than the drugs themselves
  20. Piglet
    The number of potential 'mind altering' drugs & the classes of those drugs is massive. All that will happen is that NEW classes of 'Legal Highs' will appear. BZP really is bad news and I cannot defend GBL/GHB/1,4BDO but those synthetic THC-like drugs were VERY well thought out.
    My hobby is punching holes in the MoDA and even LSD analogs are legal in the UK (change the 7-methyl and it is no longer a lysergic acid derivative due to the legal definition OF lysergic acid).
    I, for on, am HAPPY that the designers will have to work harder. Until now, really there has not been anything really interesting. Let me give some possibles:

    -7-ethyl LSD
    -propyl doriden
    -EKet (the ethyl analog of ketamine)

    I think that has every 'base' covered. Of course, if they change the law, I can give a new list... and another, and another, and another. It's possible to really make the law impossible to govern because SO MANY compounds become controlled.

    My fun. Sad, I know, but soooo Piglet ;-)
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