Fears for students who use 'legal highs' despite known dangers

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One student in three has experimented with legal highs, an internet survey has revealed.

The drugs, which are advertised as legal but are often packed with harmful substances, have been blamed for several student deaths and earlier in the year, the Government brought in new powers to impose year-long bans to take the drugs off the market pending a full review of their potential harm.

The survey, by The Student Room website, found one in three people aged 16-24 have tried a legal high – even though three in four said they thought the drugs were just as dangerous as heroin or cocaine.

But one in two of the 450 students surveyed said they were not aware that some legal highs contained illegal or controlled substances and one in 10 said they tried them because their friends used them and they thought they were safe. Half of those questioned also said it was easy to get hold of the drugs.

Crime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire said: "These figures show a worrying number of young people have experimented with so-called legal highs and we want to send a clear message to anyone tempted to try them.

"Just because a drug is advertised as 'legal' does not mean it is or that it's safe. There is increasing evidence substances sold as 'legal highs' often contain harmful drugs which are already controlled.

"We are tightening the net on unscrupulous drug dealers by introducing temporary banning orders to allow us to take immediate action against newly-emerging drugs, whilst independent experts assess the harms they pose."

Under the bans, anyone caught supplying a banned substance would face a maximum 14-year jail sentence and unlimited fines.

Jamie O'Connell, of The Student Room, said: "We're shocked that use appears to be so high.

"Our research suggests that young people need access to more information about the risks," he added.

Last year, the Government launched its "crazy chemist" campaign to warn students of the dangers of trying legal highs.

But its use of an image of an unhinged scientist prompted a fierce reaction from the Royal Society of Chemistry, among others, who accused the Government of reinforcing unhelpful stereotypes.

In October, the legal high Ivory Wave was blamed for the death of chef Michael Bishton, 24, whose body was found in the sea off the Isle of Wight.

The drug was sold for about 15 a packet and was advertised as bath salts, but the product became popular as a legal alternative to illicit drugs.

Mr Bishton's girlfriend Sammy Betts, 21, said he had started to become paranoid at his mother's home after taking the substance.

Altogether 450 people aged 16-24 completed questionnaires for the website during November and early December.