Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written evidence from the Angelus Foundation (ASB 52)

Submission in Support of New Clause 2 (NC2) for Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill for Controlling/Better Regulating the Sales of Legal Highs and other products through High Street Headshops


NC2 of Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill would have the effect of tightening up the law on the sale of Legal Highs or New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) in the High Street. These substances mimic the effects of drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Schedule 2) such as cocaine, ecstasy and LSD but are legal to possess and supply.

2) Since 2009, the volume of trade and number of outlets selling NPS in UK has risen dramatically. The trend began with the introduction of legal Mephedrone into the UK from China in 2008-10. Some of these drugs, for example Methoxetamine (a substance which mimics the effects of the anaesthetic ketamine), have come under the control of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 but continue to be misused. A large variety of new legal substances have continued to be sold in headshops as ‘research chemicals’ and synthetic cannabinoids. There have been many instances of hospitalisations and even death from experimenting and mixing these substances, particularly with alcohol.

3) These products are actively marketed (China White, Banshee Dust, Clockwork Orange) but carry no list of ingredients, no warnings on likely effects, no advice on dosage or on potential dangers of mixing with other drugs. To evade prosecution through the Medicines Act 1968 they are invariably labelled ‘Not for Human Consumption’. The products often contain an unknown, untested ingredient or set of ingredients. Consequently the psychoactive effect from any of these products is often unpredictable and the long-term harms are completely unknown.

4) The UN Office and Drugs and Crime last month estimated the numbers of young people in UK (aged 15-24) who have taken a legal high as 670,000 (or 8.2 percent) – the highest in Europe. To give a scale of the growth of the industry, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction estimated the numbers of websites selling NPS rose from 170 in 2010 to 690 in 2012. About half of this total is UK based. There is no register of headshops and no reliable numbers available; the Angelus Foundation is in the process of compiling a list, which is expected to be in the few hundred. But as an illustration, UKSkunkworks has 14 shops in and around M25, Dr Herman has six shops in the North of England.

5) NC2 in itself may not greatly affect the Internet trade of NPS, which is substantially larger than the level of High Street sales. However, the sale of dangerous substances in an everyday retail environment has the effect of normalising their use, encourages experimentation among minors and exposes more vulnerable people to powerful psychoactive drugs. The intention of NC2 is to check the substantial increase in numbers of shops selling these substances and cease the trade in untested psychoactive substances in existing outlets.

Evidence of Harm

6) It is hard to determine the precise scale of harm from NPS because their presence is often not reported by A and E medical staff. Given the inconsistency of ingredients, neither the users themselves nor the health professionals can know at the time what has been taken to cause such adverse reactions. There is likely to be significant underreporting.

i) PQ John Woodcock Barrow MP 20th May 2013

Q: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office how many deaths in the UK were attributed to legal highs in each of the last five years.

Nick Hurd MP

A: Number of deaths related to drug poisoning where GHB/GBL, BZP/TFMPP, a cathinone (including khat) or desoxypipradrol was mentioned on the death certificate, UK, deaths registered between 2007 and 2011 (1,2,3,4)

Registration year Deaths

2007 9

2008 25

2009 33

2010 35

2011 41

ii) Glasgow NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde there were 43 admissions in 2011/2012 compared to 12 the previous year.

iii) A report for the National Programme on Substance Misuse Deaths revealed 43 people in the UK died after taking now-outlawed methcathinones in 2010, compared with five in 2009.

iv) In recent weeks, there have been 17 deaths in Northern Ireland and Scotland from "fake ecstasy" which could be Class A drug PMA, or legal high AMT and or 5-IT which is under a temporary ban.


7) Generally speaking, NPS/legal highs fall into the following categories:

Stimulants (Cocaine, Amphetamine type drugs)

Tryptamines (Psychedelics/Hallucinogens)

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Phenylenamines (Ecstasy type drugs)

The reported effects vary according to drug type but include the following symptoms: anxiety, paranoia, delusions, psychotic episodes, irregular heartbeat, chest pains, hyperthermia and seizures.


8) Successive Governments’ response to growth in prevalence of NPS, has been to use the provisions within the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to reduce the availability of harmful psychoactive drugs. This was demonstrated by the establishing of Temporary Class Drug Orders (TCDOs) in 2010 and recent controls as Class B drugs of Methoxetamine and various synthetic cannabinoids (Black Mamba and Annihilation) in February 2013. It generally recognised by drug practitioners and NGOs that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has been proven to be ineffective in impacting on individual behaviour: a common pattern is for prevalence to rise following control, e.g. Mephedrone, Ketamine, GBL. Additionally, the manufacturers of these substances (mainly in China) are able to make minor molecular changes to various substances and rapidly introduce new legal drugs into the market. It is not possible for the law to keep up with the influx of so many new substances.

9) There is one other recent example of regulation of substances outside MDA – the Intoxicating Substances Act 1985, a one page Act intended to stop sale of glues and butane to minors. NC2 is similar in structure to that legislation:

It is an offence for a person to supply, or offer to supply, a psychoactive

substance, including but not restricted to-

(a) a powder;

(b) a pill;

(c) a liquid; or

(d) a herbal substance with the appearance of cannabis,

which he knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, to be so acting, that the substance is likely to be consumed by a person for the purpose of causing intoxication.

The maximum penalty would be imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a level 5 fine.

10) The legislative solution in the Republic of Ireland, the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010, had a dramatic effect on the headshop sector. In three months, following the commencement of the law, the numbers of shops fell from about 100 to just six nationally. Ireland did not previously have many headshops and so the legislation, being drawn quite widely, had the effect of shutting a whole sector without a firm focus on identifying harms. The UK is in a slightly different situation and that should engender a more cautious approach. Prior to the substantial influx of new drugs, there were already scores of headshops selling ‘counter culture’ products in the UK. Many have diversified into selling ‘research chemicals’ but some have not. Legislation aimed at simply shutting this business sector may not be targeting the harmful activity and could provoke legal appeals on its proportionality. Instead, this proposed legislation targets the range of the products these outlets are to be permitted to trade in.

11) Angelus has been in discussion with ACPO and Police Scotland who have expressed their strong support for introducing some enforcement measures against headshops. The Clause (NC2) would apply only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland targeting the suppliers of these substances. There is to be no possession offence as these are untested and uncontrolled substances, which is in line with section 2A of the Misuse of Drugs Act, which sets out the Temporary Class Drug Orders. The provision (NC2) would, on the face of it, apply equally to suppliers of NPS through Internet sites to high street suppliers. However the Irish experience has shown this is a highly difficult area to impose the same enforcement measures upon.

July 2013

Annex A

About Angelus Foundation

The Angelus Foundation was founded in 2009 by Maryon Stewart, the health practitioner, author and broadcaster. Her 21 year-old daughter, Hester, a medical student and athlete, passed away after consuming a legal high (GBL) in April 2009. The Foundation has since attracted a group of world-class experts, known as the Angelus Advisory Group, who brings together expertise from chemical, medical and behavioural sciences, as well as having considerable expertise in both the areas of enforcement and misuse of social substances.

Angelus is the only drugs charity dedicated to raise awareness about legal highs and club drugs and launched a national public health campaign in October including the launch of a website for young people There is also a website for families The short film (6 min) ‘Not What it Says on the Tin’ available on both websites includes details of individual cases and is a good introduction into Angelus’s work.

Our Mission Statement

To help society understand the dangers of ‘legal highs’ (unclassified substances), to reduce the harm they cause to young people and their families, and to save lives.

Our Aims and Objectives

We aim to become the acknowledged expert and knowledge centre on the subject of the dangers of legal highs and to maximise public understanding of the risks.

The Foundation’s work

We are carrying out programmes, internal and external projects which is:

· scoping the problem

· raising awareness of legal high

· educating young people and parents about the risk

· detecting and analyse new unclassified substances and their impact on the human body

· making the use of party drugs less socially acceptable

· enabling parents to have informed conversations with their children on the use of legal highs

· empowering young people to make more responsible lifestyle choices

· improving the understanding of the physiological and psychological impact of these substances on the human body and mind

July 2013

Prepared 17th July 2013