Expert's warning on dangers of 'legal highs'
TOO many young people have fallen under the spell of the drug meow meow. But in the last of our five days’ of special reports, reporter Nino Williams finds they could be doing themselves untold harm.
PEOPLE are exposing themselves to unknown health risks by using "legal highs" in the mistaken belief they are harmless.
Doctors and drug agencies locally have both warned of the dangers faced by people using drugs which have been developed to stay one step ahead of the law.
Their concerns come amid increasing use of the drug meow meow, which although now outlawed as a Class B drug, was legally sold before 2010.
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Doctors at Morriston Hospital say the long term effects of using the drug are not yet known, while Swansea's Substance Misuse Action Team has warned about the implications of using the drug on the development of brains of young people.
And Swansea Drugs Project has added its voice to the warnings, not just of meow meow, but to other legal highs.
Jamie Harris, family and young people's service manager, said: "We are putting in a lot of work into education of what we call new and emerging drugs, or what are otherwise known as legal highs.
"They are created to mimic the effects of legal drugs, and it is estimated that in Europe derivatives of drugs such as methedrone are being created at the rate of as much as one a week. That is how fast moving the new and emerging drugs scene is working. People see them at places like music festivals, and they look like they are professionally packaged, and assume they won't have harmful effects.
"But that is not the case. With meow meow, for instance, we are seeing people using it being hospitalised, losing consciousness, having heart palpatations, or simulating an overdose.
"There is the mental health impact, and the fact some people using it neglect to look after themselves, either by resting, and letting their bodies replenish themselves, or surpresing their appetite."
A recent study at the University of York examined the use of legal highs, and how their availability online was one aspect which was attractive to users. Its author, Jodie Norman, said: "I found users sourced legal highs online, as they were easily accessible and they were cheaper online.
"Respondents reported using legal highs for pleasure, as an alternative to illegal drugs, and curiosity due to the media hype at the time. And they thought they received a better high. But during the course of the study meow meow became illegal, and therefore was no longer easily available to purchase online or from street dealers due to the crack down by the authorities. And therefore people would source either other available legal highs online, use illegal drugs instead, or did not continue to use at all."