The ‘legal’ in ‘legal high’ seems to become more and more out of place. Along with a proliferation of new products that appear on the market weekly, governmental regulation and legislation worldwide increases.
This month New Zealand banned 41 legal high products, mainly varieties of synthetic cannabis, but also diverse party pills. They were added to a list of 250 products already banned in August.
The remaining legal highs will be withdrawn from the shops as well. Only products that are proved ‘low-risk’ might get back for sale. Practically speaking: many won’t, as the test regime they have to pass is comparable to those run for pharmaceutical medicines, with test costs running up to 1 million dollar per product.
Most legal highs are designer drugs synthesized by chemists in India and China to mimic the effect of illegal substances like cocaine and ecstasy. Often these products are legal simply because the workings are unknown, and regulation just can’t keep up with the speed at which they appear.
The synthetic cannabis varieties, which are the main problem in New Zealand, are known to be much more potent than natural cannabis strains. Probably because the synthetic cannabinoids act as a full agonist to the cannabinoid receptors, in contrast to THC, which only is a partial agonist. Synthetic cannabis might cause severe side effects like increased heart rate, hypertension, vomiting, and panic attacks. Also it is reported to be very addictive.
In the UK 26 music festivals joined forces in a campaign against legal highs. Festivals like T in the park, Bestival, Lovebox and Sonisphere agreed to ban the sales of legal highs from their venues.
On the 5th of May all visitors of the collaborating festivals’ websites were faced with a black screen. Only a grey light bulb appeared with the message: ‘Don’t stay in the dark about legal highs’.
The campaign aims to raise awareness and educate people about potential risks of the legal highs. According to the organization ‘legal’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘safe’. Autopsy reports show that in the UK alone, 68 people died from legal highs in 2012.
Previous year the European Commission already announced actions to constrain the legal high market. According to their sources about 1 new product appears every week. Often it concerns almost identical substances, with minimal molecular variations.