The stimulant drug BZP which is promoted as a legal alternative to ecstasy and amphetamines was banned today by the Government.
The man-made chemical pills – sometimes wrongly referred to as Herbal E – are widely available in so-called head shops, which specialise in drug paraphernalia.
Ireland follows the lead of several other EU countries where BZP has already been declared a controlled drug, although it remains legal throughout Britain.
Health Minister Mary Harney said the drug had now been brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977.
“This will now make the possession of BZP illegal and make sure that BZP is no longer available for sale in head shops around the country, which has been an issue of concern to my department and the wider public,” she said.
Ms Harney’s department acted after a recommendation from the EU last March that the psychoactive substance come under control measures and criminal provisions.
EU concerns followed a European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction report that found the use of BZP can lead to various medical problems.
While the long-term effects remain unknown, it has been associated with vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings and seizures.
The mood-affecting drug, also known as party pills, Legal X, XTC and piperazine, was originally developed in a UK laboratory in 1944 as a worming treatment for cattle.
It was never widely used in the agricultural sector because it caused some animals to have fits.
Jim Bellamy, co-owner of the Nirvana chain of head shops which has outlets in Ireland, UK, New Zealand and Australia, said the move would turn people to other illegal drugs.
“My only concern is the stupidity of the authorities, because now people who can’t get BZP will turn back to illegal drugs and they will die. There’s no question about it,” he said.
Although the ban came as no surprise to Mr Bellamy, he hit out at the lack of any advance notice, which he said had left head shop-owners confused about the drug’s legal status.
“I’m waiting to verify what the position is and if it is illegal then of course I will remove everything from my premises and won’t sell it anymore,” he said.
“But I thought it would be courtesy for the authorities to let us know.”
A Health Department spokesman said the law will be enforced in the normal way, and it was likely that gardaí will notify traders that they have to remove the products from sale.