During the last decade, an average of four or five new Legal Highs (drugs) came on to the market each year. In that time, the synthetic drug mephedrone had become the fourth most popular drug on the EU market, after marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. It was banned in April of that year, but not before a new market had emerged for online legal highs. More recently, EU researchers found 49 new legal drugs for sale online.
More than 280 potentially harmful legal highs and other new psychoactive synthetic drugs are currently being monitored by European experts, representing what has been described by experts as a fundamental shift in the market in illicit drugs. The EU’s drug agency, in a joint report with Europol on new drugs entering the market indicates that 73 became available across Europe only the last year, and adds that there is at this moment a firmly established, thriving legal highs business with low risks and high profits operating through more than 690 online sites and specialised bricks-and-mortar head shops.
Plus, according to one of latest European Drug Reports, by the (EMCDDA) in Lisbon on current Trends and Developments, the internet has created new routes for supply and use, and the market is at this moment less “structured around plant-based substances shipped over long distances to consumer markets in Europe”.
An increasing proportion of Legal Highs reported are from less known and more obscure chemical groups. Accordingly, most of the products on sale contain mixtures of substances, and the lack of pharmacological and toxicological data means it is hard to speculate on long term health implications of use, but increasingly data shows that some of these substances cause problems requiring clinical interventions while fatalities have been recorded.
While the challenge posed to legislative bodies and regulatory agencies at the moment by new psychoactive substances online vending is unlikely to diminish in the near future, identifying effective practices and necessitating appropriate and flexible awareness mechanisms can truly help addressing this particularly dynamic and expanding phenomenon.