USE of "legal highs" that have led to a rise in people needing hospital treatment could increase significantly in Scotland in the coming weeks, campaigners have warned.
NHS Lothian yesterday revealed that more than 20 people had needed treatment after taking the substances, a large proportion of whom had taken one product called Ivory Wave, which is sold as a concentrated form of bath salts. About half of these patients were admitted to hospital after suffering symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations, psychosis, palpitations, insomnia and anxiety.
The drugs charity Crew 2000 also revealed it had received many inquiries from people asking about Ivory Wave in recent weeks.
They warned that publicity around the product was likely to lead to a spike in people trying it and subsequently an increase in those suffering negative effects.
The reports follow concern about other "legal highs" like mephedrone, which has now been made illegal.
But as more products have been made illegal, fears have been raised about other chemicals coming in to take their place.
The latest is Ivory Wave, which has been described as "the strongest party powder there is", and is freely available online and also in "head shops".
The substance is usually snorted, but can be taken orally.
NHS Lothian said it was offering advice about the products following a significant rise in patients attending their hospitals with drug-related symptoms.
Jim Sherval, a specialist in public health at the board, said: "The chemicals used in legal highs change all the time, so people can never be certain what they are actually taking and what the effects might be.
"In most cases, the products have not been tested, so little is known about how toxic they are.
"It is important that people understand that just because a substance is legal or claimed to be legal, it doesn't mean it is safe.
"We need to get across the message that these legal highs pose a real danger." Matt Straw, a project co-ordinator at Crew 2000, said a product similar to the new Ivory Wave had been available previously containing the chemical MDPV, which was banned in March.
He said the new batch was being billed as "new formula legal in the UK" and appeared to have the same effects as previous Ivory Wave formulations.
Other NHS boards contacted by The Scotsman yesterday said they had not yet seen people needing treatment after taking Ivory Wave, but they were aware of the potential.Mr Straw said he feared that news of Ivory Wave would spread across the country and more people would become curious about it.
"The way these things tend to go is that once people are more aware of something, that is when the Google searches start, as soon as there is publicity," he said.
He added that in previous cases of legal highs appearing in the news, even negative coverage encouraged people to take the products.
The charity is advising people determined to try Ivory Wave to take care over the amount used, as only a few grains were enough to have an effect.
"The biggest worry about strong drugs like this is that people are either unaware of the small dose required or unwilling to take in that information. They will take much more than is required, and that will lead to more negative, toxic effects," Mr Straw said.
The Scottish Government said it was tackling the problem of "so-called legal highs".
"We support the UK government's proposal for a holding category for emerging substances where more evidence is needed," a spokesman said.
From simple stain remover to illegal drug
MANY so-called legal highs managed to remain outside the reach of the law because they were sold under the guise of having more innocent purposes.
Products that are now illegal were in the past sold as everything from plant food to stain remover.
Mephedrone was banned last year, but prior to that was widely available online and in shops that sell drug-related paraphernalia.
While it was technically legal to sell it, it was still an offence to advertise it for human consumption, and so was often sold as plant food or as bath salts, although it had no effect as either product.
A second substance outlawed last year was GBL. It had been available as a stain remover, superglue remover and paint stripper. It is now a Class-C drug. Another that avoided criminalisation through classification was BZP, which was sold by some companies as a natural food supplement, even though it was neither naturally occurring nor had any real dietary benefit. It is now termed a Class-C drug.
Also targeted by the government last year was a substance known as spice, a herbal smoking mixture, which was advertised as an "aromatic pot pourri" but was found to be as powerful as some strains of strong cannabis. This substance is now classified as a Class B drug.