24th May 2011, 2:36pm
Buying 'legal highs' on the internet is a risky business
A drug in powder form Many drugs sold as 'legal highs' on the internet do not contain the ingredients they claim, research by the University of Lincoln shows.

Some instead contain controlled substances and are illegal to sell over the internet. These are findings of Dr Mark Baron, who bought a range of tablets from different websites to see what each contained. The study is published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis.

"It is clear that consumers are buying products that they think contain specific substances, but that in reality the labels are unreliable indicators of the actual contents," said Dr Baron, Principal Lecturer in Analytical Chemistry in the School of Natural and Applied Sciences at the University of Lincoln.

He warned that buyers need to be aware that they have no idea what they will be taking and that some of the products could contain illegal substances.

"The product name cannot be used as an indication of what it contains as there is variation in the content of the same product name between different internet sites," said Dr Baron.

Recently there has been an explosion in the number of substances deemed 'legal highs' that can be found readily available on the internet. The UK and other governments have acted to control  these products,  however, manufacturers and suppliers seem to be one step ahead as they attempt to offer new products  outside of the restrictions of the current legislation.

Dr Baron set out to determine the drug content of such products. Purchasing them was easy;  numerous online legal high retailers market a broad variety of products, advertised as research chemicals, bath salts, or plant food, although clearly marketed toward the recreational drug user.

"No guidelines exist as to what is sold and in what purity and consumers are led to believe that purchased goods are entirely legal," said Dr Baron.

With just a few clicks Dr Baron bought seven samples of 'legal highs' from websites. Six out of seven products did not contain the advertised active ingredient. More disturbingly, five samples contained controlled substances combined with caffeine.

"These findings show that the legal high market is providing a route to supply banned substances," said Dr Baron, who hopes that his work will help consumers become more aware of the dangers of purchasing products from the internet. At the same time, legislators need to think fast.

“As legislation deals with the current crop of products we can expect to see new products appearing that try to find a route of supplying previously banned substances,” he added.

The paper 'An analysis of legal highs – do they contain what it says on the tin?' by Mark Baron was published in 'Drug Testing and Analysis'; 2011, DOI: 10.1002/dta.274.
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