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In Europe, 'legal high' business booms

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The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says that the legal high market is putting pressure on governments struggling to cope.

In the office's latest World Drug Report (.pdf), officials say that consumer demand for traditional drugs including cocaine and heroin remains consistent, but legal high use continues to increase.

Legal highs are synthetic, similar variants of drugs including ecstasy, speed and cocaine. These variants are legal due to their chemical components until a law passes banning the substance -- such as the plant feed methadrone -- but as quickly as one is made illegal, another can take its place with a slightly different chemical makeup.

In addition, marketing tactics are also used to make sure the drugs are not sold "for human consumption;" labels including "bath salts" and "research chemicals" ensure that the sale of legal highs does not break any law.

The report says that as new synthetic substances are being constantly spread via the Internet -- as well as retail outlets -- it's almost impossible for legislation keeping legal highs under control to keep up.

The agency says that these drugs pose "unforeseen public health challenges," noting:

"Sold openly, including via the Internet, [they] can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs. Street names, such as spice, meow meow and bath salts mislead young people into believing that they are indulging in low-risk fun."

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction detected 73 new substances last year. In Europe, almost 700,000 British nationals aged between 15 - 24 have experimented with legal highs.

Read More: BBC

Image credit: Flickr

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— By on June 26, 2013, 6:27 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure