THE opening of another shop selling “legal highs” has sparked dismay from campaigners afraid the substances are damaging users’ health and “causing havoc” for residents.
The stimulants – known as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – are mainly sold in the Southside, city centre and Leith areas but Nirvana, in Easter Road, recently opened its doors to sell the so-called party drugs, alongside e-cigarettes and drugs paraphernalia, including bongs and cigarette papers.
The “head shops” are causing a growing problem in the city, said Sheila Gilmore, Edinburgh East MP, who said the council should take control of sales through regulation and licensing.
She said: “I’m utterly frustrated and concerned to see that more head shops are opening up. These legal dealers are making money while destroying users’ health and causing havoc for local residents.
“For months Southsiders have told me that they have seen users queuing up outside these shops as they walk their children to school, but it is now clear the problem is spreading to the Abbeyhill and the Easter Road area.”
Despite their legal status, the chemicals pose a growing health risk. Six users died in Edinburgh between January and October last year, according to a council report last month.
Police are also encountering an increase in fights and antisocial behaviour involving “aggressive” users, she added.
Ms Gilmore said: “Banning them is difficult because of the sheer number of new substances becoming available each week at shops across Edinburgh. In Easter Road, retailers have been working hard to regenerate the area and this new store can only undermine their efforts.”
Some of the substances on sale at Nirvana – with names like Armageddon, Clockwork Orange and Diclazepam – were labelled “not approved for human consumption”.
Shop assistant William Nibloe claimed that the substances were not sold as legal highs but were intended for use as bath salts or on incense burners.
He added that it was the responsibility of the person buying them to use the products for the purpose for which they were intended and not to abuse them.
Mr Nibloe added: “We go out of our way to make sure that no-one under the age of 18 gets hold of this.
“If you look under 25 you are not getting served even if you have a full grown beard, and if we find someone is coming in for an underage person they are not getting back in.”
Police chiefs have vowed to use stop-and-search powers to combat use of the stimulants, as they have reported a “significant increase” in usage across the city.
Superintendent Matt Richards said: “Our advice remains consistent and simple – do not take these substances. Legal doesn’t mean safe. The growth in use is often linked to bizarre and aggressive behaviour.
“We remain concerned about evidence provided by colleagues at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary that shows increasing commitment to treating first-time users, many of whom don’t know the strength of what they are taking and have no awareness of the side effects.”