Published on October 23, 2013 | by Sarah Lafer


Public airing for legal highs

Dr Clare Gerada, David Bowden, Alexander Linklater and Baroness Molly Meacher (from left to right) opening the debate 'Legal highs and club drugs culture' at the Battle of Ideas festival on the 19th of October at the Barbican

Four of the 350 speakers at the two-day Battle of Ideas forum at the Barbican [Paolina Stadler]

Doctors and MPs came together to discuss the future of legal highs at this year’s Battle of Ideas.

The public debate was one of a series held over two days at the Barbican Theatre in London, and came two weeks after 17 year-old student Matt Ford suffered a heart attack caused by a legal high.

Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, lead psychiatrist at the Club Drug Clinic and a key speaker at the event, described the availability of legal highs online as “a danger in itself”.

He said: “Anyone can now go online in the safety of their home, with their credit card and the next day a psychoactive drug will pop through the letterbox. The postman is your dealer.”


According to a report by the UK Centre for Social Justice, 73 new legal highs were introduced in Britain in 2012 and in the same period, 52 people died after taking legal substances.

In 2011 a European Commission poll reported that the largest number of users of legal highs were in the UK.

A UAL student spoke to ALN about her experience with a legal high called E-scape: “It was pretty intense and I ended up feeling a bit hot and then I was sick, but after I threw up it was great. My friend bought them from a shop in Devon, real easy. They were so much cheaper than illegal drugs.”

The majority of legal highs, officially known as psychoactive substances, come with no warnings on the packaging.

Safer drugs

Baroness Molly Meacher, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform and panellist at the Barbican event, believes that people need to be educated before they consider taking such risks with drugs.

“There will always be people who use drugs,” she said. “It is not about eliminating them; it is about trying to make sure that if people are going to take drugs, that they take the safer drugs.”

This year two substances – known as NBOMe and Benzo Fury – were made illegal in the UK.

In September, the European Commission proposed a new law to ban legal highs. The current law enables member states to ban a substance within two years, rather than the ten month period that has been suggested.

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