‘Legal highs’ could be more dangerous than cocaine and heroin because their harmful effects are unknown, Home Office Minister Norman Baker has said.
Baker, a Liberal Democrat, made the comments to the London Evening Standard newspaper, where he noted that new substances were being developed “almost on a weekly basis”.
“We don’t know what the long-term consequences of these things are”, he said.
Speaking about Class A drugs, he said: “We have got a history of knowing what cocaine does or heroin does over decades and we are able to come up with some sort of policy.
“There is no such history of knowledge with some of these substances.”
Mr Baker commented that a review of legal highs, which started in December last year, was considering the issue.
He said legal highs, “are a particular problem at the moment and becoming more serious than some of the traditional drugs in many ways”, but stressed he wasn’t saying that heroin and cocaine are not dangerous.
Commenting on the rapid creation of new drugs, he said they can be legal substances, “at least temporarily”.
“So then young people sometimes conclude wrongly that it’s safe because they think, not unreasonably in some ways, that if it was unsafe it would have been banned.
“So young people are sometimes less on their guard in terms of taking these new substances than they are for long-established substances like heroin, cocaine or cannabis.
“And yet in some ways it can be more dangerous because we don’t know what necessarily they are going to do and young people don’t know what they are going to do.”
Last year official figures showed a 79 per cent rise in deaths as a result of legal highs between 2011 and 2012.
The Office for National Statistics reported that 52 people died from the substances in 2012.
In 2010 ‘legal high’ mephedrone, also known as miaow-miaow, was banned.
The drug was placed in the Class B category, along with cannabis and amphetamines.