The Evening Post revealed yesterday that one in 10 teenagers said they have dabbled with potentially lethal legal highs.
In part two of our investigation into the drugs, STEF HALL finds out how worringly easy it is easy to buy the substances on our high streets and online.
On a typically rainy Wednesday morning in Preston, I wasn’t sure where to start seeking a hit.
But it didn’t take long to get caught up in the seedy underworld of legal high supply.
Although many premises I visited that used to sell them told me they had stopped their supply under pressure from the authorities, there are others still willing to feed the gap in the market. Within seconds of approaching one city centre off licence a friendly customer, who overheard my request, beckoned me down an alleyway on Friargate.
Darren, 24, offered to help me get some when the shopkeeper told me they had stopped selling them.
It feels really good but it only lasts about 20 minutes. But I was getting sweats with them. I’ve ended up in hospital.
Laughing he admitted: “I’m addicted to them. I started taking them two years ago. They’ve messed up my life.
“I’ve lost various jobs because I took them at work. I took them when I worked in a care home.
“It feels really good but it only lasts about 20 minutes. But I was getting sweats with them. I’ve ended up in hospital.
“I can’t stop taking them. I used to smoke cannabis, but let me tell you, these are far worse than cannabis.
“My boyfriend takes them too.”
He asked where I was from, adding: ”You’d be surprised how far people come for this stuff.”
Despite his warnings, he offered to share his last hit of a powder he had in his pocket with me.
Sensate, a cannabinoid that mimics the effects of cannabis, almost killed a 14-year-old boy in Southampton – but Darren bought it for around £10 from a Lancashire market stall a couple of weeks earlier.
My affable new friend accompanied me across the town to a city centre premises to help get my next score, but they informed him they too had stopped selling them.
Undeterred in his quest to help me get high, Darren offered to have a smoke with me in a city centre alleyway. As we walked through Preston Market he tore the packet open eagerly with his teeth.
Fumbling with the powder on the doorstep of a Chinese restaurant, he asked me to hold his tobacco paper down for him as he rolled a spliff, in full view of customers browsing the stalls. I made my excuses, saying I was at work to which he replied: “If you’re going to work take them at least two hours before.”
Darren pointed me to another supplier he uses, an off licence in Deepdale, even telling me which bus to catch to get there.
Half an hour later I walked into an ordinary-looking shop situated in a row of terraced family homes.
Although initially suspicious, the trader pulled a large plastic sandwich box out from under the counter and gave me a selection of 1g packets – offering me three for £25 if I wanted.
I wasn’t asked for ID or given a receipt. I asked for a brand, Vertex, which Darren had recommended but was told they did not have any. Instead I was recommended another, K2, a notorious form of synthetic marijuana also known as Spice.
They contained ‘not fit for human consumption labels’ but even though I made it clear to the shopkeeper I was intending to smoke it he supplied it nevertheless at £20 cash for two 1g packets. One, Exodus herbal incense, said it was sold as an “incense or pot pourri only” but went on to warn: “Inhalation may result in dizziness, tingling, disorientation, nausea and headache.”
That is not the worst of it as Canterbury student Matt Ford, 17, found out. He suffered a heart attack after smoking it in 2013. And five Lancaster University students were hospitalised after taking Spice back in May.
The next chemical of choice, Black Diamond, is a newer legal high, labelled as a ‘research chemical’ not approved for consumption.
The Evening Post chose not to name the places that sold these potentially deadly concoctions in order to assist an investigation by the authorities – and since the investigation, the premises has handed over the stash to Lancashire Trading Standards and agreed not to sell them anymore.
But the sad truth is even if all shops voluntarily stopped selling it, they are alarmingly easy to get hold of online, as long as the buyer has access to a credit card.
From Facebook and Twitter to even Instagram, I found the internet is full of products for sale, complete with reviews by users.
Ethylphenidate, sold using the street names ‘Gogaine’ and ‘Burst’, has emerged as an alternative to cocaine.
Despite it being made temporarily illegal by parliament while the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) decides whether they should be permanently controlled, one site was still selling it for just £25 a gram.
The chemicals, engineered by experimenters, mimic the same effects as hard street drugs, and carry deadly health risks, but their makeup change so quickly that legislation cannot keep up with them.
The Government is now hoping to tackle the issue with the Psychoactive Substances Bill introduced in the House of Lords on May 28, which will eventually make it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, import or export psychoactive substances capable of producing a psychoactive effect. But many believe this will be difficult to enforce.
Tomorrow, a businessman reveals how an addiction to legal highs triggered a psychotic episode.