Last year this column followed the progress of the changes in UK legislation around magic mushrooms. Stories coming out of London indicate that business is booming in the natural high industry.

Most major towns and cities now have a resident drug emporium selling raver toys, cannabis accessories, and a selection of legal, mind-altering drugs.

Along with several large-scale websites, they form a lucrative legal highs industry which markets exotic mind-changing plants and chemicals to a growing market of drug users looking for alternatives to illegal substances.

It appears that it was the boom in sales of magic mushrooms that kick-started the industry. A legal loophole existed that allowed the sale of psilocybin (the hallucinogenic substance in mushrooms) and users quickly discovered that these legal highs actually had an effect.

This loophole was closed in July and rather than crawl away with their tails between their legs, the owners of these businesses sought alternative products that also had the effects that users were after. In fact 20 new, effective drugs have emerged in the last year.

These include a variety of shamanic plants, synthetic stimulants, and psychedelic cacti, most imported from the Netherlands, New Zealand and India.

Some of these we have spoken about before, including a plant from Thailand called kratom dubbed the herbal speedball due its apparent euphoric effects (illegal in Australia) and salvia, a powerful hallucinogenic (also banned in Australia).

Also popular are the benzylpiperazine (BZP) drugs, legally manufactured and sold in New Zealand, which offer a range of effects similar to drugs such as amphetamine and ecstasy. Let’s not forget about mushrooms.

Magic mushroom sellers have now switched to selling another mushroom not yet outlawed: the red-and-white spotted fly agaric toadstool, which contains the psychoactive chemicals muscimol and ibotenic acid which are reported to trigger delirious, dream-like states.

Much of the trade is web-based, with some sites offering more than 5,000 products. Customers can give ratings and reviews, similar to the service offered by sites such as Amazon. As a result, highs that don’t work or have negative side-effects quickly disappear from sale.

These legal highs are proving popular because many users see them as safer than chemicals like ecstasy, and users believe them to be better quality.

However, just because a substance is herbal or natural does not mean it is necessarily any safer, and legally manufactured highs can also have risks, particularly when they are used in association with other drugs.

Be aware that there are still risks associated with natural and legally manufactured highs and, if you are considering using any of these substances, find out as much as possible about the drug, its effects and the possible negative consequences. The decision to use any drug should never be taken lightly -“ just because it is legal does not make it any safer.

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?/p>

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