It’s always interesting to watch what is going on in Europe at this time of the year -“ summer is drawing to a close and it’s usually the time when new trends in drug use are starting to identify themselves. As has already been discussed in this column over the past few months, this does appear to be the summer of the herbal high. Magic mushrooms continue to grow in popularity (with over 300 legal outlets across the UK at the moment) and there is also a range of other plants emerging as the drugs of choice for both clubbers and festival-goers alike.

Herbal highs have been around for some time but for many who have experimented with them they have been a huge disappointment. However, in recent months plants like salvia, a Mexican plant related to sage, and kratom, a Thai herb, have made an impact upon the illicit drug scene. Business in the multi-million-pound legal high trade in the UK and across Europe is now booming with the number of products on offer having quadrupled in the past five years.

One of the most popular products is salvia, used for centuries by Mexican Indians in religious ceremonies, which produces a powerful hallucinogenic effect when chewed, drunk in an infusion or smoked through a pipe. Users claim to have vivid out-of-body experiences, though others suffer only terrifying nightmares. Salvia is a prohibited drug here in Australia, as well as in Finland and Denmark, but it currently remains legal in Britain and the rest of the world with the Home Office having no plans to take any action against it. There are hundreds of outlets openly selling the substance in the UK. Salvia is available at £10 for a bag of leaves or £30 for a bag of the more powerful extract version.

Kratom, a tree native to Thailand and other parts of south-east Asia, has been available in the UK for the past six months and is proving popular. Believed to work on the same receptors in the brain as heroin, kratom initially induces alertness, increasing physical energy and the desire to interact with others. At higher doses it becomes a sedative, constricting the pupils and desensitising the user to physical and emotional pain. The effects last for up to six hours.

These natural products are believed to be popular because many users see them as safer than chemicals like ecstasy and likely to be better quality. However, just because a substance is herbal or natural does not mean it is safe.

Natural hallucinogens are not for everyone -“ many fear the loss of control and the length of intoxication that are part of this often extreme experience. Be aware there are real risks associated with natural highs. Once you go tripping, you’re really in for the long haul -“ if you have a bad trip you will just have to ride it out. Also, things can go horribly wrong -“ a story coming out of Germany late last year told of a young man who used a pair of garden shears to cut off his tongue and penis after drinking a tea made from a natural hallucinogen.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug, and no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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