Annihilation 'legal high' targeted for ban

Drugs advisers' move against drug which left nine people in hospital recently comes amid concern over misuse of laughing gas

A "legal high" sold as a "head-blowing herbal incense" is set to be banned after leaving nine people in hospital in the past three months.

"Annihilation" is among hundreds of new synthetic "designer" compound drugs, many of which imitate the effects of controlled drugs such as cannabis or ecstasy, that the government's drugs advisers are to recommend be banned next week.

The warning came as the government's chief drugs adviser also voiced concerns about dangerous new recreational uses being made of laughing gas (nitrous oxide) and helium – but made clear there was no intention to ban the gases.

Professor Les Iversen, the chairman of the government's advisory committee on the misuse of drugs (ACMD), said that annihilation was a particularly potent compound that had left young people hospitalised in Glasgow and Blackburn. He said youngsters had become severely agitated and over-stimulated after taking it.

Strathclyde police have said that three people were hospitalised in Glasgow after taking it at the same time last Wednesday. "Just because it's legal, doesn't mean it's safe. No one can predict the risks involved," said DI Jim Bradley. "Those who have taken the drug have experienced adverse health effects, including increased heart rate, unconsciousness, numbness in legs causing collapse, paranoia, aggression and self-harming. The symptoms appear, in some cases, to last for several hours."

Iversen said annihilation was a potent synthetic cannabinoid compound that replicated the active ingredients in cannabis and was among hundreds of compounds that the ACMD will recommend next week be banned by the home secretary, Theresa May.

He said that three years ago, the government's drugs advisers had recommended banning the first generation of legal highs – which included similar drugs such as Spice – and hoped they had dealt with the problem. Iversen added: "This is a catch-up exercise. It is an example of how fast-moving this field is. In three years' time we shall need to do something similar again." He said the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction had so far this year spotted one new legal high or previously unknown synthetic compound each week, on average.

The drugs advisers will also next week confirm a ban on the first legal high to be controlled under the government's new "temporary banning legislation". It is expected to tell the home secretary that the evidence exists to retain the ban on methoxetamine, which was placed on a temporary class drug order in April.

Iversen said the ACMD had received an approach from the British Compressed Gases Association highlighting its concerns over the misuse of laughing gas and helium, and their wrongful portrayal as "fun". He noted that at the Glastonbury festival in recent years, it had become popular to sell balloons filled with nitrous oxide, which was then inhaled. However, the gas is potentially lethal.


Alan Travis, home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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