Use of legal highs explodes in Edinburgh

Our reporter examines his purchases. Picture: Greg Macvean
Our reporter examines his purchases. Picture: Greg Macvean
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USE of so-called “legal highs” is exploding across the Capital, new figures have revealed.

City-based drugs charity Crew 2000 has said prevalence of the dangerous substances, which are widely available over the counter in a series of outlets across Edinburgh, had doubled among those using its services in the last year alone.

The shock statistics showing a spiralling number of users came as both the Scottish Government and NHS Lothian moved to issue fresh warnings over the dangers of the toxic compounds, which have been linked to a series of deaths throughout the UK.

Dr James Dear, a consultant toxicologist at the Royal Infirmary, said patients being admitted to the hospital after taking legal highs was becoming an increasingly regular occurrence, with the drugs causing chest pains, agitation, aggression or fevers.

“It’s a pretty common thing for us to deal with and it’s becoming more common,” he said. “What’s in them is very difficult to tell. They can contain almost anything.

“The chemicals aren’t illegal and because the packet says they’re not for human consumption, you can buy them quite easily in the middle of Edinburgh. But these are drugs just the same as ecstasy, heroin or cocaine.”

Of those using Crew 2000’s Capital-based drop-in service, 39 per cent reported using general legal highs, up from 23 per cent last year, while 11 per cent said they had used synthetic cannabis substitutes.

One in five users of the charity’s counselling service in the city reported using legal highs, up from one in ten 12 months previously.

Dr Dear said that because the drugs, also known as New Psychoactive Substances, were available legally, many users wrongly assumed they were safe. He added: “There is no quality control, despite them being legal. People get lulled into a false sense of security because you can buy them in the shop, but they’re just as variable as what people buy from a drug dealer.”

The Crew 2000 findings on new drug trends were presented at an event in Glasgow yesterday. The charity said its research had also shown that 31 per cent of users surveyed admitted using a “mystery white powder”, meaning they did not know what they were taking.

James Shanley, manager of the harm reduction team with NHS Lothian’s substance misuse directorate, said there had been a “marked increase” in the number of patients using legal highs.

He said: “Frequently they tell us that they take these drugs along with alcohol or prescribed medication, which is very concerning. Some people may think that because these substances are called legal highs, that they are safe to use but this is not the case.

“In most cases, the products have not been tested, so little is known about how toxic they are.”

While drug classification is a matter for Westminster rather than Holyrood, the Scottish Government said it was taking action to tackle the rising popularity of legal highs.

Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “The message is clear – the health implications of taking New Psychoactive Substances or so-called legal highs can be just as serious as controlled drugs and users are acting as guinea pigs for untested and unregulated substances.

“We will continue to work with the Home Office and the police in Scotland to understand more about the use and supply of the substances and options to tackle their 
supply.”

Dangers from over the counter

APOTHECARY, in Clerk Street, markets itself as selling smoking accessories, herbs and “interesting products”.

So if you’re after a “research chemical powder” for “lab reagent use only”, you might think it isn’t the shop for you. Yet that is exactly what a white powder branded Dust till Dawn, on sale in the shop for £15, is for, according to its packaging. An internet search will find that Dust till Dawn is sold elsewhere as “bath salts”.

While marked not for human use, one site says it will also “keep you going in your party wonderland”, and is ideal for use with “hundreds of bloodthirsty strippers”.

Upon asking for a legal version of cannabis in Apothecary, I was asked if I meant “incense”, and bought a bag of a plant-like substance called Diesel for £5.