EXPERTS have issued warnings over a new generation of head shop drugs containing “mysterious and unknown” substances which could be toxic.
Irish scientists have identified 13 new chemicals which are now on sale in head shops. Researchers in Trinity College Dublin have expressed “great concern” at the rise in the number of “unknown” substances, which, they say, scientists have not come across before.
The Trinity team said they have no idea what impact these mysterious substances may have on users or how poisonous they might be.
They also predict that a further range of products could soon hit the streets here. This includes a much-hyped drug called Benzo fury, marketed to replace the popular powder mephedrone, which, along with a number of other products, was banned in May.
“The manufacturers of these drugs are clever; whether they are in the Far East or possibly Eastern Europe, they always keep one step ahead,” said Dr Pierce Kavanagh, a chemist and research leader.
“It is simple to add or subtract from a molecule (which is banned) and make it legal. You could do it in a day.”
Dr Pierce’s team at the Department of Pharmacology in TCD bought 38 separate products – 14 powders, 13 tablets and 11 capsules – from head shops in late June.
They contained 13 chemicals which were new to the researchers and had not previously been detected.
These include stimulants like naphyrone (sold as a replacement to mephedrone), synephrine, fluorotropacocaine and ethcathinone.
They also identified four chemicals, on sale before the ban, which were not included in the ban, and are still being sold.
They include dimethylamylamine (DMAA), a very common chemical found in 13 of the 38 drugs tested.
Dr Pierce said there has been another noticeable trend since the ban: “There has been a shift, you can no longer rely on what the packet is telling you what’s in it. It may contain one active ingredient one day, different one the next. You have no idea what you’re getting.”
Part of this trend is a rise in mystery substances, he said. “A number of products we’re seeing now we haven’t see before – nor have other any laboratories – so we’re left with what we call unknowns,” he said.
“These unknowns could be deliberately incorporated active materials, manufactured in laboratories, or in some cases, significant impurities introduced during the manufacture of these products.
“Whatever we may know about the active ingredients – the naphyrones and so on, albeit in most cases anecdotally – we simply know nothing about the impurities and this is of great concern.”
He said a product that was, say, 99% pure naphyrone and 1% impurity could pose major risks.
“That 1% impurity could be 1,000 times more potent than the parent molecule. It could be very, very toxic,” he warned.
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