The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that the UK has the largest market for “legal highs” within the European Union.
The 2013 World Drug Report found a total of 670,000 Britons aged 15 and 24 have experimented with new psychoactive substances (NPS) at least once.
The results also suggest that UK users of NPS, aged between 15 and 24, make up 23% of all EU users. In total, nearly 5% of people aged 15-24 in the EU have experimented with NPS.
Despite its decline since being banned in 2010, mephedrone, also known as ‘meow meow’ or ‘M-CAT’, is still the most widely used of the new psychoactive substances in the UK.
In 2010-2011, mephedrone use was on a par with that of cocaine in England and Wales.
Furthermore, Justice Tettey from the UNODC pointed out that whilst the market for traditional drugs such as heroine and cocaine is globally stable, the market for NPS is “proliferating at an unprecedented rate”.
The 2009 World Drug Report identified 166 NPS worldwide. By 2012, the number had risen to 251.
The report showed an increase in online custom between 2010 – 2012, as NPS sales rose from 170 in January 2010 to 693 in January 2012.
At the same time, an EU survey found most young consumers in Europe bought their supplies of NPS from friends, at parties or in nightclubs, as opposed to online.
As new substances are being identified all the time, the UNODC said authorities are struggling to keep up. A UNODC worker explains that this is due to the “almost infinite scope” to alter the chemical structure of NPS.
The report also pointed out that NPS are particularly dangerous due to their street names – such as ‘spice’ and ‘bath salts’ – misleading young people into believing they are indulging in “low-risk fun”.
CLARITEST cautions that NPS are even more dangerous than their more traditional counterparts (such as MDMA and cocaine). NPS are comprised of slight chemical alterations of these traditional drugs, but the difference is that they have not undergone the testing to identify their health risks.
Justice Tettey, from the UNODC, said that while the UK had “a large market in NPS”, it had also successfully introduced legislation to bring some of the substances under control.