Legal highs 'worsen mental illness', says Devon mother

Legal highs A number of legal highs have been made illegal but there is an "ever increasing number" being sold warn government drugs advisors

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A mother of a psychiatric patient in Devon fears her son's mental illness is being made worse because he takes legal-high drugs.

Legal highs are sold openly and legally, but can have the same effect as many illegal drugs.

One expert has urged those with mental health issues to avoid the drugs "like the plague".

A number of them have been outlawed by the government, but it is fighting an "ever increasing number", say advisors.

The mother of a 40-year-old man who is undergoing treatment in a Devon psychiatric hospital, said that when her son was allowed to go out, he went to a local shop and bought legal highs.

Start Quote

I am human and I don't want anyone to get hurt. [But] It's all perfectly legal so we are not doing anything wrong”

End Quote Steve Beard Legal highs retailer
'Stunting development'

The woman, who did not want to be identified, said: "I know him better than anyone and I know straight away if he's been visiting that shop.

"He grimaces, he gets angry, he can't keep still.

"It's having the same effect as if he was taking illegal drugs."

She added: "They are meant to be rehabilitated, but this is stunting their development and is making them quite ill."

The manager of the hospital, which is not being named to protect the patient's identity, told the BBC she was also concerned about the easy availability of legal highs.

But police and trading standards officers have said they cannot help because they are legal.

Analysis

The government has banned a number of legal highs already but, when new ones are appearing at the rate of one a week, it's very difficult to keep on top of the problem.

The message from health professionals is straightforward: legal highs are not a safe alternative to illicit drugs.

Their chemical make-up is a range of potentially damaging substances which changes all the time.

While it can take years for pharmaceutical companies to get medicines licensed, these drugs are completely untested and most people who use them have no idea what they are taking.

Legal highs mimic illegal ones and that means, while they may induce euphoria, the physical and psychological harm they can cause is likely to be the same as well.

David Taylor, Professor of Psychopharmacology at Kings College London, said: "It's like going into a chemistry lab and helping themselves to jars on the shelf.

"Anyone with severe psychotic illness should avoid legal highs like the plague."

Last year, Home Secretary Theresa May was allowed to make instant 12-month bans on "any substance deemed potentially harmful", in a measure to control legal highs.

Last month, the government made synthetic cannabinoids, such as those sold under the name Black Mamba and methoxetamine, sold as Mexxy, illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

"The UK is leading the way in cracking down on legal highs by outlawing not just individual drugs, but whole families of related substances that have the potential to cause harm," The Home Office said.

Devon and Cornwall Police said the "role of police forces is to enforce those laws".

Steve Beard, of a shop which sells legal highs in Plymouth, said: "I am human and I don't want anyone to get hurt.

"But if people are taking stuff because they want to, then it's like drinking.

"You could walk into a pub and drink 10 pints but you wouldn't hold the publican responsible.

"It's all perfectly legal so we are not doing anything wrong."

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