Medical problems caused by ‘legal highs’ continue

PEOPLE continue to present to hospitals with serious medical and psychiatric problems from former “legal highs” despite the crackdown on head shops, according to a respected doctor.

Brendan Kelly, senior lecturer in psychiatry at University College Dublin, said a series of research papers highlight the “substantial public health problem” presented by these drugs.

Mr Kelly, who is also editor-in- chief of the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, said there had been a “significant regulatory response” to the growth in head shops. “However, people continue to present to Irish hospitals with serious medical and psychiatric sequelae [abnormal conditions] following the use of substances such as mephedrone,” he said.

He said the journal had a supplement devoted to the problems caused by head shop drugs.

“There may be fewer head shops on the streets, but head shop drugs have not gone away.”

One paper by the psychiatric department staff in St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, looked at two cases. The first, a unemployed woman, 30, presented with paranoid delusions, who thought she had developed “brain cell death”. She had been a user of products called Mint Mania and Lime Fantasy for six to eight months.

The second person, a 29-year-old unemployed homeless man was also suffering from paranoid delusions after taking a powder called Snow.

The authors said: “Both of the cases we report highlight the kind of acute psychotic symptoms, which seem to be clearly linked to use of head shop products in previously healthy individuals.”

A paper, by psychiatrists in University College Hospital Galway, examined two people who had taken a powder called Whack.

A man, in his 20s, developed a depressed mood, severe anxiety and paranoid ideation. He claimed “demons were putting evil ideas into his mind”. The second man, in his 40s, suffered severe anxiety, agitation and psychosis. He thought people were joking about him on the internet and TV programmes were referring to him.

The authors said: “While Whack is now prohibited, it remains available online and is probably also available as a street drug.”


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