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4 February 2010 Edition

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Natural highs - The sobering facts

HEAD SHOPS: Some of these ‘natural highs’ have a lethal cocktail of chemicals that can have the same affect as cocaine or LSD

HEAD SHOPS: Some of these ‘natural highs’ have a lethal cocktail of chemicals that can have the same affect as cocaine or LSD


Wicklow Sinn Féin Councillor John Brady is a longtime campaigner against drugs. This week he has called a meeting in Bray to highlight a worrying development in his native county – the arrival of drug outlets otherwise known as ‘head shops’.  
For the uninitiated it should be explained that these shops are in the business of selling various items connected with drug taking, like pipes or bowls for inhaling drugs, along with products loosely defined as ‘natural highs’.
That all sounds pretty innocuous you might think – the only problem is that the ingredients of these ‘party pills’ etc are unclear. The customer walks off with what might well be a lethal cocktail of chemicals that can have the same affect as cocaine or LSD.  
The controversy surrounding the continued trading of these outlets, which are now present in almost all our major towns and cities, and the complete lack of regulation of the products they peddle, has been a continuing theme of RTE’s The Joe Duffy Show for some weeks now. Parents have phoned in recounting harrowing stories of the ill effects the drugs sold in the stores have had on their sons and daughters and expressing shock and disgust that these businesses have not been shut down.
In Wicklow, Councillor Brady has strong concerns about the whole issue.  “I have seen first-hand many lives and families destroyed from drugs”, he says.  “There are two of these shops in this county now, one in Bray and one in Wicklow town. The shops are operating until 4 am over the weekends when all licensed premises are shut.  And not only can these products be bought over the counter in the head shops but also on the Internet.”

Loathe to be a complete killjoy and wondering if maybe John was overly anxious about shops selling quant little pipes and ‘natural highs’, I decided to Google the subject. John was in no way exaggerating. If you check out ‘Wholesale and Retail online Headshop’  you will read a sobering Disclaimer of Liability.  The following are some of the terms. “You must be healthy with no pre-existing medical conditions whatsoever”, the item reads “and  currently not be taking any medication prescription or over-the-counter. You must have no mental or emotional disability or impairment, and be capable of making decisions for yourself.”
How a computer can decipher those symptoms is beyond me. And of course “do not take if you are pregnant or nursing, have high blood pressure, heart or thyroid disease or taking, antidepressants, or any other prescription drug”. More telling again is the statement from the company that “You must clearly understand makes no claims whatsoever as to the medicinal, psychological or physiological properties or effects of these products”. And of course: “Under no circumstances will be liable to you or anyone else for any damages or injury caused by ingestion of these products or by misuse or improper use.” Would you buy a second hand plant, however pleasing, from this company? Probably not, but your teenage son or daughter might.
Looking at the kinds of products available in head shops and online you can see how the online company would have a tight Disclaimer.  “They sell some lethal stuff called methadone”, John Brady says, “and there’s stuff called Snow, which is manufactured to look and have the same affect as cocaine. The shop proprietors get around the legal aspect through labelling that states it’s not for human consumption. It’s sold as a bath salt but it’s clearly manufactured as a substitute for cocaine and people are injecting it under the skin and snorting it. Then there’s materials that have the same affect as cannabis. We’re not sure what it contains because masking agents are used in these drugs. They will put vitamins for instance into the drugs to block chemists from finding out what’s actually in the product.”

Lack of legislation regarding these shops is fundamental to the problem. “There’s no legislation,” Brady says,  “to ensure that the ingredients are written on the product. “Any chemist has to be licensed in the state but there’s no legislation or guidelines around the Head shops. The state hasn’t gotten on top of the problem. What they did in the past was ban single substances, such as magic mushrooms, but the Head shop owners get around that by putting the mushrooms in powder or liquid form.  Another drug called BZP, which has a similar affect as acid or LSD, was banned but the Head shops have openly said they have four or five other drugs that have the same effect ready to come onto the market, so it’s clear that banning individual drugs isn’t going to work.
“We need a different approach to the problem. Proper legislation needs to be introduced. There are stories of 16-year-olds taking these substances with horrific side affects. These kids will be ill, hallucinating – they can even turn violent and become depressed.
“The drug shops also undermine the image of a community. “These shops not only give a negative image of a town’s main shopping areas, but also glorify and are seen to legitimise the use of drugs. There is a lot of concern amongst the public and traders around Wicklow about these shops and the potentially lethal chemical cocktails they sell.”  John Brady is calling for a united front to rid the county of these shops. “Communities must unite and oppose these shops in their towns. That’s why I organised a public meeting – to bring together concerned residents, traders, campaign groups and other community based organisations to try and organise a community response to these outlets and the lethal chemical cocktails they sell.”


An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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