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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Online market in legal highs ‘growing in the UK’

Embargoed until 05 June 2009

The market in “legal highs” has grown over the last three years – despite the 2007 UK ban on popular ingredient benzylpiperazine.

Websites selling “legal highs” appear less likely to carry safety warnings than they did three years ago, and appear more likely to sell products without listing all the ingredients.

Psychiatrists Dr Martin Schmidt and Dr Ken Checinski, from St George’s University of London, examined whether the BZP ban has had any effects on the marketing and availability of “legal highs” in the UK. They present their findings today at the Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Liverpool.

“Legal highs” are legal psychoactive substances which are packaged and sold for recreational use. They are widely available on the internet and on the high street.

The two researchers extracted information from the “legal highs” section of one well-known internet retailer over several time points between 2006 and 2009. Over the three year period, the total number of products on sale increased from 43 to 78. During the same period, products containing piperazines (including BZP) decreased from 17 (almost 40% of the total) to 0. However, the number of products on sale with undisclosed ingredients rose from 0 to 6 (almost 8%).

More brands of products appeared over the three-year period, as did new routes of administration. For example, in 2006 products were designed to be swallowed or smoked. However, by 2009 additional products appeared which were designed to be snorted or taken sublingually (under the tongue). Worryingly, the amount of safety information provided on the website decreased markedly between 2006 and 2009. In 2006, over half of products carried warnings about possible side effects and interactions with other drugs. However, in 2009 only 14% had warnings about side effects and 29% about possible interactions.

Dr Schmidt and Dr Checinski said: “Despite the UK ban on BZP, the market in “legal highs” has continued to grow, with more products on sale now than before the ban. Of particular concern is the reduction in the provision of safety information and the rise in products with undisclosed ingredients. Our study suggests while the BZP ban has led to a drop in the availability of piperazines, it appears to have had several unintended consequences”.

Dr Schmidt is leading a follow up study involving a larger number of UK websites. In addition a survey is currently under way which examines the attitudes and experiences of individuals who use “legal highs”. The survey is available at:  

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896



Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, BT Convention Centre, Liverpool, 2 -5 June 2009


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