Legal Highs vs Natural Highs

Julian Brazier: UK Skunkworks ‘repugnant’

It often happens that there’s a confluence of stories which seem to illustrate the same point.

Last week (21/09/’13) there was a story about legal highs in the Daily Mail.

Karen Audino had released a picture of her son, Jimmy Guichard, 20, from Gravesend in Kent, who lay dying after suffering a heart attack and severe brain damage within hours of taking a legal substance from the controversial shop, UK Skunkworks, in Chatham, also in Kent.

This is one of a number of UK Skunkworks shops in the South of England, which sell drug paraphernalia as well as legal highs.

Earlier in the month student Matt Ford of Whitstable, 17, had suffered a near-fatal heart attack after taking another legal high called Exodus Damnation which he bought from the UK Skunkworks shop in Canterbury.

Canterbury MP Julian Brazier urged Home Secretary Theresa May to change in the law on the sale of legal highs.

He said: ‘Skunkworks’s get-out clause for the sale is that the herb is not for human consumption, but their advice is to help you relax by burning the herbs in the home. I find these twisted semantics as repugnant as I am sure you do. Skunkworks, its fellow shops and its websites must be banned.’

At the same time there was a story in the Daily Star about police in the West Country forming a ‘magic mushroom force’ to arrest people for the possession of Liberty Cap mushrooms, which are in season right now.

Police Constable Dave Tippetts of Wiltshire Constabulary said: ‘We have recently had an increase in people located with magic mushrooms in their possession. Many have been in possession of Liberty Cap Mushrooms, which are a Class A Drug. One of my main concerns is that there are very similar mushrooms growing in the area that are extremely poisonous and could cause physical harm if consumed.’

Constable Tippetts added that many people are currently unaware of the 2005 law change making it an offence to possess magic mushrooms in their natural state.

Liberty Caps are a native fungus of the British Isles. They grow in sheep pasture and are legal as long as you don’t pick them; having picked them, however, they immediately become defined as a Class A drug.

Recent experiments have indicated that magic mushrooms may be efficacious in the treatment of depression and anxiety. Unfortunately their continued status as a banned substance makes it hard to test these theories.

Prof David Nutt, the former government drugs advisor, says he has funding to research the use of chemical psilocybin to treat depression. But, he says, ‘insane’ regulations mean he cannot get hold of the drug.

The UK’s Medical Research Council has given Imperial College London a £550,000 grant to test the drug. However, as a potential medicine it must meet Good Manufacturing Practice requirements set out by the EU.

‘It hasn’t started yet because the big problem is getting hold of the drug,’ said Prof Nutt. He said finding a company to provide a clinical-grade psilocybin had as ‘yet proved impossible’ as none was prepared to ‘go through the regulatory hoops’.

‘So we are between a rock and a hard place, which is very unfortunate, because if this is an effective treatment for patients then they’re obviously being denied that possibility so one of the things we have to do now is have a more rational debate about the way the drugs laws are being implemented.’

He said that similar rules are hampering research into other drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis.

He told the BBC: ‘We have regulations which are 50 years old, have never been reviewed and they are holding us back, they’re stopping us doing the science and I think it’s a disgrace.’

And in a third related story, the Guardian reported that Uruguay has legalised marijuana and is planning to sell the herb.

The idea is to create a government-run legal marijuana industry to combat drug-trafficking.

Marijuana sales should start in the second half of 2014 for $1 a gram, drug chief Julio Calzada told Uruguay’s El País – an eighth or less of what it costs at legal medical dispensaries in some US states.

The measure would make Uruguay the first country in the world to license and enforce rules for the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adult consumers.

No one has ever died from the use of marijuana. The earliest reference to it is from a Chinese medical tract dating back over 3,500 years. It has a number of known and recognised medical uses. Many MS sufferers swear by it for its pain relieving properties.

Notice that I referred to marijuana as a herb, not a drug. It grows out of the ground. There is no processing involved in its production, except for drying. This is also true of magic mushrooms.

Unlike legal highs, which are experimental drugs created in the laboratory in order to get around the UK drugs laws, and which have never been properly tested, these natural substances have a long history of use.

Hasn’t anyone got the point yet?

If natural highs were legal and properly regulated, like alcohol and tobacco, then there would be no need for the so-called legal highs sold by shops like UK Skunkworks, and young people like Jimmy Guichard and Matt Ford would be that much safer.


  1. Many ‘natural highs’ such as cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms have had thousands of years of testing on humans. What do governments feel is so wrong with folk choosing these over socially prescribed intoxicants such as booze, which have been shown to lead to violence abuse and addiction


    • Well so many MPs, particularly Tory MPs, are on the Boards of Director’s of alcohol and tobacco companies, you would hardly expect them to be opposed to the particular kind of highly addictive and dangerous but still legal drugs.


  2. Aaarrggh..this just drives me crazy. Although I’m not a user of any proscribed herbs (and what a ludicrous position that is, illegal living beings), I’m fully in support of peoples’ right to explore their own consciousness unmolested by government.
    Here in South Africa, we have the case of Catha Edulis – a bush which produces a mildly stimulating leaf when chewed – which is a protected species. So you can’t get rid of the bush if it pitches up in your garden, but you will be prosecuted if found in possession of the leaves.
    Terri in Joburg


  3. Good thinking Chris but of course would interfere with the supply of ‘criminals’ into the US-style penal-industrial complex which this government is trying to expand. Legalising cannabis, magic mushrooms etc would be a move in the wrong direction. Criminalising natural highs would be much more profitable for Serco, G4S etc.


    • Thanks Sue. The criminalisation of legal highs is an on-going and never ending process since the chemists are always going to find new compounds, which is a dangerous enterprise. If the natural highs were freely available there would be no need for such experimentation. As you say “Criminalising natural highs would be much more profitable for Serco, G4S etc” which implies that harm reduction is the last thing on this government’s mind.


  4. Am I right in thinking that it is picking, holding, carrying, storing, trading etc of Liberty Caps that is illegal, not having them in your system? If so, then I think the solution is to graze. Down on all fours, place your mouth over the fruiting head, bite thru the stalk, taking care not to pull at or tear the underground mycelium. Stop after 300.


  5. Sounds perfect for supplying the privatised penal service .. and of course, will reduce the unemployment figures too. What’s not to like for this corporate government? As you say ‘harm reduction is the last thing on this government’s mind’.


  6. The fashion for these things is corrupting; a sign of society decaying; it is a vice which has a creative industry behind it, as morally compromised as the mafia, expanding its power.


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