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‘Synthetic Cannabinoids’ should be made illegal

‘Synthetic Cannabinoids’ should be made illegal

News Release issued by the COI News Distribution Service on 12 August 2009


Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

‘Synthetic cannabinoids’, often known on the street as ‘Spice’, are as harmful as cannabis and should be made illegal, according to advice given to the Government by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

The harmful so-called ‘legal high’ is sold as herbal material, but scientists have found that the plant-based mix, which contains neither tobacco nor cannabis, is coated with synthetic cannabinoids that imitate the effects of the active ingredient in cannabis called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

These synthetic cannabinoid products are being sold mainly though ‘head shops’* and the internet for as little as £20. Young people think they are safer herbal alternatives to cannabis but they have the potential to be more harmful because users don’t know the mixture and quantity of chemicals in the product.

Professor David Nutt, Chair of the ACMD, said:

“‘Spice’ and other synthetic cannabinoid products are being sold legally as harmless ‘herbal legal highs’. However, the herbal content is coated in one or more dangerous chemical compounds that mimic the effects of cannabis.

“These are not harmless herbal alternatives and have been found to cause paranoia and panic attacks. That is why we are advising the Government to bring a large number of synthetic cannabinoids under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

“It is important that we remain one step ahead when it comes to harms that ‘legal highs’ can cause. People need to know they pose a real danger and should not be seen as safer alternatives to illegal substances. That is why we are working closely with the Government to ensure they can stay ahead of the game, change legislation and communicate the real dangers surrounding this problem.”

In the review given to Government the ACMD has made a number of recommendations:
* synthetic cannabinoids have potential harms commensurate with those of cannabis and should be classified and controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) accordingly;
* synthetic cannabinoids, apart from the compound nabilone, have no recognised medical use and should be placed in Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulation; and
* a large number of chemical compounds require legislation to ensure possible future versions of synthetic cannabinoid products are captured by the Act.

The review into synthetic cannabinoids is part of the ACMD’s ongoing work on looking at the harms of ‘legal highs’ and giving scientific based evidence to Government allowing them to legislate where required.

* ‘Head shops’ is the common name given to retail outlets that sell legal drug paraphernalia.

Notes to Editors

1. The ACMDs advice to government on synthetic cannabinoids can be found at: http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/drugs-laws/acmd/reports-research/

2. The ACMD is a Non-Departmental Public Body established in 1971 by the Misuse of Drugs Act. The ACMD provides independent expert advice to ministers on drug misuse - primarily to the Home Office, but also to other Government departments.

3. The ACMD’s membership consists of experts from a wide range of professions. The ACMD is chaired by Professor David Nutt. Other members include experts in pharmacology, psychiatry, public health, GPs, senior police officers, substance misuse and mental health.

For more information about the membership and terms of reference: http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/drugs-laws/acmd/about-us

For further information please contact Nick Logan

ACMD 004/2009


Home Office Press Office
Phone: 020 7035 3535

Nick Logan
Phone: 020 7035 3535

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