SO-CALLED legal high drugs can be even more harmful than illegal substances such as cannabis and ecstasy, MSPs have heard.
And an MSP who was one of Scotland’s most senior police officers said dealers used the same European supply chain as that used to sell class-A drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
The warning came as MSPs debated New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), which are not regulated by laws on illegal drugs.
The substances are chemically similar to illegal drugs, but have been altered to make them legal. They are often labelled as research chemicals, herbal incense or not for human consumption.
Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, a former director of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said some of the substances could be more powerful than illegal drugs.
He said: “With the chemicals involved, there’s a supply chain that’s also used for class-A drugs across Europe. Class-A drugs are often found in the legal high supplies and can have a bigger strength impact than the drugs they seek to replace.”
Mr Pearson, Labour’s justice spokesman, said dealers were making “substantial profits” and called for the UK’s HM Customs service to get involved in curbing the trade in legal highs.
He said: “It’s profit largely without tax and they pretend to all and sundry that the products are not for human consumption. They are often sold as fish food and plant food that’s not fit for consumption.”
In 2012, there were 47 drug deaths in Scotland in which NPS were found to be present.
Community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham said the Scottish Government wanted laws on legal highs, which are reserved to Westminster, to be tightened up. She said: “NPS are designed to produce similar effects to illegal drugs, like ecstasy, but fall outside the control of the UK government’s Misuse of Drugs Act.”
She added: “It is clear that the health implications of NPS can be just as serious as controlled drugs and we must challenge the myth that legal equals safe.”
The minister also announced a summit to examine ways to crack down on the sale and supply of NPS, with Police Scotland involved in the initiative.
Information materials will be produced for the Scottish Government’s national drugs information and advice service, Know the Score, to help raise awareness about the dangers of these substances, including Facebook adverts from today. Research will also be commissioned to improve understanding of the impact of legal highs in Scotland.
Meanwhile, Police Scotland is working with trading standards to explore the powers available to disrupt supply.
The UK government, which is reviewing the status of legal highs, has said two new groups of psychoactive substances – NBOMe and Benzofury – will become classified as class-A and B drugs respectively.
Labour MSP Elaine Murray said: “These are not cosy, legitimate products which make people feel good – they are pharmaceutical compounds manufactured to simulate illegal drugs.”