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Legal highs causing panic

Government concern is increasing at the number of "legal highs" flooding the market. With resourceful chemists looking to bypass rudimentary or crude legal prohibitions, potentially harmful but perfectly legal narcotics are being created at unprecedented speed (no pun intended).

Mike Power is the author of a new book Drugs 2:0: The Web Revolution that is Changing the Way the World Gets High. He told the Guardian that there is a global industry devoted to imitating the effects of illegal drugs but creating them in a form that sidesteps the law. "The innovation is constant," he said, "and the chemistry is infinite. It's so beyond the knowledge of any normal police officer or politician, I pity them having to deal with it. The simple answer would be to legalise the safer drugs and people wouldn't be looking for alternatives."

The most notorious legal high, mephedrone, often sold as "plant food", was eventually made illegal, although it is still widely available as an alternative to ecstacy, amphetamine or cocaine. It has been linked to several deaths and is now classified as a Type B drug.

Synthetic or herbal cannabis variants have been less easy to identify and categorise. With brand names like Amsterdam Gold, Annihilation and Spice, they are readily available in "head shops". There is concern about the safety of these as there is evidence to suggest that the synthetic cannabinoid that is present in some can cause a rapid heart rate, panic attacks and convulsions.

One of the more recent innovations has been "bath salts", the street name for 2-DPMP, a strong stimulant that is branded with names like Ivory Wave or Vanilla Sky. There have been recommendations that these should be made illegal.

With more products coming onto the market regularly, it is apparent that the police might need to develop their own sophisticated pharmaceutical division to counter the threat.

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