The government has been criticised for failing to consult properly on its decision to criminalise a widely-used drug.
The home affairs select committee – a group of MPs who monitor the activities of the home office – said the decision to ban khat “has not been taken on the basis of evidence or consultation” and called for the proposal to be reconsidered.
All drugs bans must be approved by parliament. However, in 2010 the coalition government passed legislation that enables the home secretary to authorise a temporary twelve month ban while they consider whether substances need to be taken off the shelves for ever.
This is an attempt to crack on so-called ‘legal highs’ - drugs that have little in common apart from the fact they have yet to be banned.
Deaths from legal highs continue to rise and were blamed for 52 deaths in 2012, up from 29 in 2011.
These are the six drugs that home secretary Theresa May has banned – or announced plans to ban – since May 2010.
1. Herbal stimulant Khat.
What: Herbal stimulant that’s very popular among Yemenis and Somalis in London. Generally chewed. Also known as qat.
What it does to you: Makes you more alert, happy and talkative and suppresses the appetite. But also risks exacerbating mental health issues and increases risk of mouth cancer.
Earlier this summer Home secretary Theresa May announced plans to ban it. The Home Office insists a ban will stop Britain becoming a global hub for the trade in khat, claiming the trade aids criminals. But Kenya, which grows much of the UK’s supply, has lobbied against the move.
Now the home affairs select committee – a group of MPs who scrutinise her decisions – say it should the decision should be reconsidered since there had not been enough consultation and it was not based on evidence.
2. Psychedelic drug NBOMe.
What: NBOMe. Also known as “Smiley Paper” (no, we’re not making this up).
What does it do: NBOMe is “a powerful hallucinogen, which means it changes the way you see objects and reality”.
Mainly imported from China, this drug was temporarily banned for twelve months in June.
It has been linked to several deaths and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) – a group of drugs experts who advise the government – has now recommended that the ban is made permanent.
3. Ecstasy-a-like Benzofury.
What: Benzo Fury. They’re “research pellets”. Labelled as not fit for human consumption.
What does it do: The drug gives “users a rush by an increase in heart rate and blood pressure”. And the potential for heart attacks, paranoia, anxiety and psychotic episodes. Linked to several deaths.
The government also put a temporary twelve month ban on the drug in June 2013. The ACMD has no recommend that this is made permanent.
4. Ketamine substitute Mexxy.
What: Methoxetamine / Mexxy / ROFLCOPTR. (We’re not making this up.) Again, sold as research pellets and labelled as not fit for human consumption. We feel that there’s one graphic designer churning these packets out.
What does it do: The Ketamine alternative drug gives “users a rush by an increase in heart rate and blood pressure”. And the potential for heart attacks, paranoia, anxiety and psychotic episodes. Linked to several deaths.
According to reports at the time the drug could make you feel as thought you were inside a Kate Bush video. Said one user: “I was in the video, actually inside the frame. I forgot where I was, what I was listening to, everything. I was that snowman, and I’m not usually prone to hallucinations. I don’t even like Kate Bush.”
In March 2012 it became the first drug to receive a temporary ban under new legislation passed to deal with new legal highs. This has since been made permanent.
5. Cannabis substitute Black Mamba.
What: Black Mamba / Blue Cheese / Tai High Hawaiian Haze (?!?). The main name for synthetic cannabinoids, essentially a lab-produced version of cannabis.
What does it do: Effects are “likely to be very similar to cannabis”.
Banned at the same time as Mexxy, following the hospitalisation of several users.
6. Mephedrone replacement Naphyrone.
What: Close relation of Mephedrone, the ecstacy substituent that was banned in one of the last acts of Gordon Brown’s Labour government. Also known as NRG1.
What it does to you: Eurphoria and alertness. But also “over-excitation of the nervous system, which can cause fits.”
The first drug to be banned by the coalition government, this was given Class B status in July 2010. It briefly gained popularity as a replacement for mephedrone.