Where do young people buy drugs today? If you envision a dodgy backstreet deal with kids handing over cash to strangers, you’re wrong. Instead, picture someone sitting in front of their computer, paying by credit card. A few days later, the postman delivers the drugs to their door in discreet packaging.
This is the new, seemingly safe, drugs trade booming in Britain.
These websites aren’t hidden in some shady corner of the Internet. I’m hardly familiar with the drug scene but it took me just two Google searches to find hundreds of websites offering dangerous drugs delivered right to my door.
They look like any other online shop. I’ve bought office stationery from worse-looking websites. It’s just like shopping on Amazon. You can read descriptions of the products and even check reviews left by other users. These drug dealers certainly aren’t hiding—in fact, they encourage you to follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook. And you can use your credit card safely—many of the sites use Paypal.
With just a couple clicks, I found a site where I could buy a drug called “Annihilation” in complete safety.
Except it’s only the shopping that’s safe. Nine people have been admitted to Glasgow’s hospital for taking Annihilation in the last three months. Others have died from taking these types of easily available drugs.
Welcome to the world of “legal highs”—drugs with all the harmful effects of illegal drugs but without any of the difficulty in purchasing. Because these drugs are legal, they can be purchased at much cheaper prices and in a much purer form than illegal drugs.
There’s a lot of talk in both Britain and America about the legalization of cannabis. But more dangerous and more powerful drugs are already easily and legally available.
Over the past few years, the rise in “legal highs” has done for drugs what the Internet has already done for pornography. There are no more shady backroom deals. The risk and shame are gone. But they are still destroying lives.
None of the websites give any indication you are dealing with something dangerous. Drugs are described as “herbal incense.” One way companies get away with selling drugs is by labeling them “not for human consumption.” Some websites even find ways to avoid doing this. One website displays this warning next to its drugs: “They consume you. You don’t consume them.” That sounds more like a slogan than a warning that you could end up in a hospital.
The rest of the page is full of people posting reviews about how great a high the drug gave them. No one mentions any danger. The few negative reviews complain that the drug isn’t powerful enough.
These drugs are drawing in a huge number of young people.
“We thought it was good news when demand for cocaine and heroin began to fall,” said. Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, who founded the Club Drug Clinic in London. “What has happened is that they have been replaced by other drugs that we are trying to understand.”
Since 1998, Cannabis use has halved. Ecstasy use has also halved over a similar period of time. In that time, the rate of illegal drug use by people aged 16 to 24 has fallen from 30 percent to 19 percent.
That looks like progress. But the Angelus Foundation, which aims to educate young people about the dangers of these drugs, estimates that one in three people aged 16 to 24 are likely to try legal highs. “We might be reaching a situation where legal highs are as attractive as tobacco these days for youngsters,” said the drugs coordinator for West Yorkshire Police, Bryan Dent.
Many of these young people are ignorant of the dangers. Because the drugs can be bought legally and safely, many think that means they’re safe to use.
Maryon Stewart set up the Angelus Foundation after her daughter Hester died from taking what was then a legal high. Stewart says she knows “parents from all over the country who have lost kids” due to these drugs. Yet when children in schools are told what is really in these drugs, “They feel that they’ve been duped and they feel that they’ve been cheated,” she said.
Perhaps more worryingly, parents are also ignorant of the dangers. “New research has found most (86 percent) parents are lacking the vital knowledge needed to warn their children about the dangers of ‘legal highs,’” wrote the Angelus Foundation on its website.
Many of these drugs are chemically very similar to illegal drugs. The main active ingredient in Annihilation, for example, is a synthetic form of cannabis. Often, these highs are a lot stronger than the illegal form of the drug.
Detective Inspector Jim Bradley of the Glasgow City Center Police warned that those who have taken Annihilation “have experienced adverse health effects, including increased heart rate, unconsciousness, numbness in legs causing collapse, paranoia, aggression and self harming.”
Many of those taking these drugs simply don’t know how dangerous they are. They’re being killed so someone else can make a killing.
Because many of these drugs are new, the long-term effects are unknown. Often, there are no studies into their side effects. “These kids are playing Russian roulette,” Vice President of Caron Treatment Centers Dr. Harris Stratyner told The Fix, a website on drugs and recovery. “It’s absolutely ludicrous that anyone would put this into your body. It’s like trying to get high off arsenic or rat poison.”
Ketamine is an early “legal high” that was outlawed in 2006. Heavy use of Ketamine is now known to cause permanent damage to the bladder. Users can be left with pain whenever they urinate. In extreme cases, users had to have their bladders removed. gbl (Gammabutyrolactone) is another former “legal high” that was outlawed in 2009. Several died after falling into a coma from taking it. “Users of gbl suffered high levels of dependence and harrowing withdrawal symptoms,” wrote the Times.
“When these patients arrive we can only treat the symptoms, because we don’t know what they have taken—and neither do they,” said a specialist at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Dr. Richard Stevenson, last July. “None of the cases admitted this year have died, but no one should be under any misapprehension that legal highs are potential killers,” he warned. “If this steep rise in admissions continue, it is only a matter of time until we see deaths.”
If these drugs are so dangerous, why are they still legal? Mainly because the British government is stuck playing whack-a-mole with drug manufacturers. As soon as they outlaw one chemical compound, several new ones arrive.
The government passed a law in 2011 so they could outlaw new drugs in a matter of weeks, not months. But 28 new “legal highs” arrived on the market in the first five months of 2012 alone. The government can’t keep up. The drugs are only banned after they’ve come to the government’s attention—which means only after they’ve caused serious harm. Once they’re banned, users either continue to use the drug illegally or move on to the next big thing.
Although “legal highs” are hitting the headlines mostly in Britain, they are a problem in America too. America’s poison control centers received 6,138 calls about “bath salts,” up from just 304 the year before. This “legal high” is now illegal, but there will be more—if they’re not available already.
The arrival of legal highs shows the flaw in the West’s drug policies. Stopping people from getting drugs isn’t working. Stopping people from wanting them is the only solution.
But this is much harder. It requires a complete change in society.
It means children can no longer be brought up in a world without hope, where temporary pleasure is not their only goal. It means revolutionizing family life, so that parents protect and nurture their children. It means that teens and other young people spend much of their free time in wholesome, family pursuits, not out clubbing. The message put out by movies and popular music will have to change.
It means creating a whole society of people full of hope, focused and enthusiastic about what they can accomplish.
It also means having a society where there is no one willing to sell potentially lethal products for a profit. Where no one sells a product marked “not for human consumption” to people that they know will smoke or swallow it.
Does all this sound impossible? It is with man. But this drug-free world is coming. For more information about what this world will look like, read our free booklet The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like.
Also, be sure to keep your family safe from these dangerous substances. They are much easier to obtain than you may think. For practical advice, see our article “Heroin at Your House?” ▪