The past couple of weeks has seen British newspapers and politicians fretting about "legal highs". Legal highs are perfectly legal substances that
help people get out of their minds yet stay within the law" as the Guardian puts it.
Like Ritalin and booze, you mean? No, they're talking about things like spice arctic synergy. You know, spice arctic synergy, the famous drug. No? Well, you know about it now, and so does everyone who reads the Guardian. I would be interested to see what the sales of spice arctic synergy are like in the next few weeks.
From what I can tell "spice" is just the latest of the many brands of "herbal highs" that can be bought in head shops and other such "alternative" retailers. Other famous brands are Druid's Fantasy, Aztec Acid, and Wizard's Willy. (I may have made some of those up.) These are blends of possibly psychoactive plants which can be smoked or eaten; the effects are supposedly a bit like cannabis or magic mushrooms but, at least so far as I'm told, mostly consist of nausea and headache. And wasting £20.
The consumer base for these silly products largely consists of teenagers who aren't cool enough to buy any proper drugs. On the drug credibility scale, most "legal highs" rank somewhere between sniffing glue and drinking your own pee after taking mushrooms in order to recapture some of the hallucinogens. (That works, allegedly.) No self-respecting drug user would be seen dead with any. Ban them, on the other hand, and everyone will want some.
To be fair, there are some genuinely potent legal drugs out there. Salvia divinorum, for example, contains a pharmacologically unique dissociative hallucinogen called salvinorin. Back when I was an uncool teenager a few friends of mine tried it, but they only ever took it once. The experience apparently amounted to ten minutes of terror and indescribable visions that seem to last hours; no-one I know who's taken it enjoyed it, and in the case of one of them it let him to vow never to take any hallucinogens ever again. I tried some, but it did nothing at all (except waste my money.) So it's a bit unpredictable.
Should it be banned? Maybe. It's certainly not stuff I would want my kids to go near, if I had any. Hypocritical as that might be. But that doesn't mean it's actually harmful, still less that prohibiting it would prevent harm overall (I suspect people would just find another drug to take, maybe an even dodgier one.) It would be worth a serious and evidence-based look, like all areas of drug policy, but given that the government have a history of hysterical shrieking whenever their own appointed experts try to do that, I'm not hopeful.