Another legal high bites the dust

Benzodiazepine Phenazepam, a legal high which has been freely available to purchase via the internet, has been banned for import into the UK the Home office has announced recently. Legal highs, such as benzodiazepine Phenazepam, can be just as dangerous as more well known illegal drugs and only in the past few years has the government begun taking positive steps to limit their availability.

It was announced by the Home Office last month (August 2011) that imports of the benzodiazepine Phenazepam have been banned; the drug will be added to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 at a later date as a Class C drug. The drug which is sold as a legal high on the internet under the street name Bonsai will now be seized and destroyed by The UK Border Agency. Medically Phenazepam is used in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal and some neurological disorders such as epilepsy. It is also occasionally used as a pre-medication prior to surgery as it reduces anxiety.

Phenazepam, which lists amongst its harmful side effects amnesia, respiratory depression, dizziness, hiccups and drowsiness which in some cases can lead to a coma is said to be highly dangerous. As with all benzodiazepines dependence is easily formed and abrupt discontinuation of the drug after a period of regular usage can result in severe withdrawal symptoms which can include seizures, insomnia and death. The drug itself looks similar to cocaine and until recently was freely available on the internet.

Russian in origin, Phenazepam is often sold on the street as Valium.  Phenazepam is a very different drug and as it is 5 times as strong as diazepam the risk of a fatal overdose is significantly higher. Having a 60 hour half life and a peak effect of between 2 and 3 hours the drug is said to have been found in post mortem blood samples of at least nine cases investigated by the University of Dundee this year.

Due to the potential harm Phenazepam and other similar legal highs pose the Government has now said they are introducing a 12 month temporary ban on all new psychoactive substances entering the UK as part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

There has also been a similar warning released about another drug, the stimulant ParaMethoxyMethylAmphetamine (PMMA).  PMMA is used to make some of the legal highs currently on sale via the internet and is being sold on the street as a substitute ecstasy. It is a drug that, while similar to Ecstasy is not the same in terms of potency, it is weaker and therefore users may be tempted to take more in order to achieve the desired results, this substantially increases the risk of overdose.

PMMA is sold in pill and powder form, pills are known to either be pink and embossed with the Rolex crown or white with a four leaf clover stamped into them, although other variants may now also be available.

We must be mindful that more evidence of the dangers of legal highs comes our way that legal does not equate to safe.   Many of the legal highs that on sale right now have never been trialled for human consumption.   Sale of a substance  on the internet does not mean that it has passed any kind of quality control procedures. Legal highs are no less dangerous and sometimes more so than their more familiar, illegal substitutes.

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