"Legal highs" on the net-Evaluation of UK-based Websites, products and product information

Division of Mental Health, St George's University of London, Cranmer Terrace, Tooting SW17 0RE, UK.
Forensic science international (Impact Factor: 2.14). 03/2011; 206(1-3):92-7. DOI: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2010.06.030
Source: PubMed


A vast array of substances are marketed as "legal highs" in the UK. These products are mainly marketed online and are packaged and produced to mimic illicit drugs. Little is known about the full range of products available at present and no studies have evaluated the product information provided to consumers. AIMS & HYPOTHESIS: To describe the available legal high products marketed by UK-based Internet retailers and evaluate the product information provided to consumers.
Websites were identified using the terms "buy legal highs+UK" and two search engines. The first 100 hits and a random sample of 5% of the remaining results were screened. Websites based in the UK were included and all products were entered on a database. Information on product name, list price, claimed effects, side effects, contraindications and interactions was extracted. A descriptive analysis was conducted using SPSS v14.
115 Websites met the inclusion criteria but due to duplicate listings this was reduced to 39 unique Websites. 1308 products were found and evaluated. The average product price was 9.69 British pounds. Products took the form of pills (46.6%), smoking material (29.7%) and single plant material/extract (18.1%). Most products claimed to be stimulants (41.7%), sedatives (32.3%), or hallucinogens (12.9%). 40.1% of products failed to list ingredients, 91.9% failed to list side effects, 81.9% failed to list contraindications and 86.3% failed to list drug interactions. Top 5 products (with active ingredients in brackets) by frequency were Salvia divinorum (Salivinorin A), Kratom (Mitragynine), Hawaiian Baby Woodrose Seeds (Lysergic Acid Amide), Fly Agaric (Ibotenic Acid, Muscimol) and Genie (JWH018, CP47497).
Products marketed as "legal highs" are easily available from UK-based Internet retailers and are reasonably affordable. Safety information provided to consumers is poor. Uninformed users risk serious adverse effects.

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    • "Methoxetamine (MXE) is a ketamine derivative, which began to be used recreationally in the UK in 2010 (ACMD, 2012). As with many other novel psychoactive substances (NPS), known as 'legal highs' (ACMD, 2011; EMCDDA-Europol, 2012; TNI/IDPC, 2011), its effects and toxicity are not fully understood (Schmidt et al., 2012). Although classified as a Class B drug in February 2013 (Home Office, 2013), it is still widely marketed online in the UK (Ayres and Bond, 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: The goal of this study is to provide an update on the data given on methoxetamine (MXE)-related fatalities that occurred in 2011-2013, presented at the Second International Conference on Novel Psychoactive Substances. Fatalities involving MXE were extracted from the database of the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths, which receives information on drug-related deaths from Coroners in the UK and Islands (Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey) and other data suppliers. Eight cases, received by 3 September 2013, in which MXE was found at post-mortem and/or directly implicated in the death and/or mentioned in the Coroner's verdict are described. The median age at death was 27 years, with the majority of White ethnicity (6/8) and male (7/8). MXE was used together with other substances in 7/8 cases. MXE was found at post-mortem in all cases, directly implicated in the deaths of four and likely to have had an influence in two. More research needs to be conducted into its health effects and toxicity potential. Health care professionals should be made aware of the potential health harms of MXE, in order to develop early intervention measures and minimise the number of MXE-related poisonings and fatalities. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
    Human Psychopharmacology Clinical and Experimental 07/2015; 30(4):244-8. DOI:10.1002/hup.2422 · 2.19 Impact Factor
    • "In recent years, a dramatic increase in online availability of the so-called " legal highs " /novel psychoactive substances (NPS) (Dick and Torrance, 2010; Schmidt et al., 2011; EMCDDA, 2014) has been observed as well. NPS are designed to mimic the effects of class A drugs and, although this is not always the case (Schifano et al., 2015), they are offered as " legal alternatives " to scheduled drugs. "
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    ABSTRACT: Objectives Internet and social networking sites play a significant role in the marketing and distribution of recreational/prescription drugs without restrictions. We aimed here at reviewing data relating to the profile of the online drug customer and at describing drug vending websites. Methods The PubMed, Google Scholar, and Scopus databases were searched here in order to elicit data on the socio-demographic characteristics of the recreational marketplaces/online pharmacies' customers and the determinants relating to online drug purchasing activities. Results Typical online recreational drugs' customers seem to be Caucasian, men, in their 20s, highly educated, and using the web to impact as minimally as possible on their existing work/professional status. Conversely, people without any health insurance seemed to look at the web as a source of more affordable prescription medicines. Drug vending websites are typically presented here with a “no prescription required” approach, together with aggressive marketing strategies. Conclusions The online availability of recreational/prescriptions drugs remains a public health concern. A more precise understanding of online vending sites' customers may well facilitate the drafting and implementation of proper prevention campaigns aimed at counteracting the increasing levels of online drug acquisition and hence intake activities.
    Human Psychopharmacology Clinical and Experimental 07/2015; 30(4):302-318. DOI:10.1002/hup.2466 · 2.19 Impact Factor
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    • "No compound or dose can be regarded as 'safe': we do not know enough at this time to state with confidence the relative differences in toxicity or other risks between NPS classes, whilst drug purities may vary considerably and individuals' tolerance and drug responses might be widely different. An evaluation of 39 unique UK-based websites selling NPS found that about 40% of products did not list their ingredients; over 90% did not cite potential side effects; and information that was provided was of questionable quality [Schmidt et al. 2011]. "
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    ABSTRACT: There has been growing clinical, public, and media awareness and concern about the availability and potential harmfulness of so-called ‘legal highs’, which are more appropriately called new or novel psychoactive substances (NPS). A cat-and-mouse process has emerged wherein unknown chemists and laboratories are producing new, and as yet nonproscribed, compounds for human consumption; and as soon as they are banned, which they inevitably are, slightly modified analogues are produced to circumvent new laws. This rapidly changing environment, 81 new substances were identified in 2013 alone, has led to confusion for clinicians, psychopharmacologists, and the public at large. Our difficulties in keeping up with the process has had a two-fold negative effect: the danger of ignoring what is confusing; and the problem that some of the newer synthesized compounds appear ever more potent. This review aims to circumscribe a quick moving and growing field, and to categorize NPS into five major groups based upon their ‘parent’ compounds: stimulants similar to cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy; cannabinoids; benzodiazepine based drugs; dissociatives similar to ketamine and phencyclidine (PCP); and those modelled after classic hallucinogens such as LSD and psilocybin. Pharmacodynamic actions, subjective and physical effects, harmfulness, risk of dependency and, where appropriate, putative clinical potentials are described for each class. Clinicians might encounter NPS in various ways: anecdotal reportage; acute intoxication; as part of a substance misuse profile; and as a precipitant or perpetuating factor for longer-term physical and psychological ill health. Current data are overall limited, and much of our knowledge and treatment strategies are based upon those of the ‘parent’ compound. There is a critical need for more research in this field, and for professionals to make themselves more aware of this growing issue and how it might affect those we see clinically and try to help: a brave new world of so-called ‘psychonauts’ consuming NPS will also need informed ‘psychotherapeutonauts’. The paper should serve as a primer for clinicians and interested readers, as well as provide a framework into which to place the new substances that will inevitably be synthesized in the future.
    Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology 03/2015; 5(2):97-132. DOI:10.1177/2045125314559539 · 1.53 Impact Factor
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