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EU drugs agency reveals soaring access to 'legal highs'

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has revealed a soaring number of new psychoactive substances, also known as 'legal highs' in a recent report, reports the Independent.

The EU drug watchdog monitors the access to and use of drugs across the European Union and reports on trends.

Its latest report reveals that the use of legal highs across Europe is reaching levels not seen before, with more than 650 websites selling 250 substances to users in all countries.

The total number of new psychoactive substances entering the market last year was 81, representing well over one new substance per week. This is an increase on the 73 new substances that came into the market in 2012.

Legal highs are designed to flout existing drug rules by possessing chemical compositions that differ from those already prohibited. They are therefore able to mimic the effects of other drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy but remain legal and available online and even in high-street shops.

EU Drug Report 2014

The EU drug watchdog said in its EU Drug Report 2014 that most of the new substances launched into the market were synthetic cannabinoids; drugs that mimic the effect of cannabis.

The report adds that around 30 of the 81 new substances are not capable of fitting into any recognised group.

Legal highs bypass drug laws by being sold as 'not for human consumption' and are often advertised as plant food or research chemicals.

Manufacture and sale

Legal highs are made in India or China and are imported into the EU for sale online or in shops. Although many remain legal, some are brought into the public eye, most often after a tragedy associated with their use.

The Government has banned a small number, but they know that as fast as they could outlaw the substances new ones can be created.

The Home Office launched a review of the whole issue of legal highs last year, and is due to publish its report later in 2014. It is understood that the Government is considering new legislation to allow it to ban substances quicker, and enhancing powers of police to prevent the sale of psychoactive substances.

"The technology to access these sites is increasingly being incorporated into consumer software, opening up these marketplaces to more people. In addition the open sale of 'legal highs' on the Internet appears to have increased their availability to distributors and consumers," reads the report.

In response the Government said it had already outlawed some 250 substances, including many introduced into the market last year.