We tried the legal highs that are going to be criminalised, and it got weird

Spice spice baby

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Since Theresa May announced a blanket ban on legal highs at the beginning of September, there has been lots of talk about how effective the ban is truly going to be and even more talk about such substances being a scourge on our great British community.

Last week Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell called Edinburgh “the legal high capital of the UK” due the abundance of head shops selling over-the-counter highs. In the same speech Mitchell linked the use of them to the increase of attempted murders as well as “violent and sexual crimes” in Scotland.

So what exactly are these legal highs and how easy is it to get your hands on them?

Last Saturday I and a few choice guinea pigs went over to Edinburgh students’ favourite head shop, the Apothecary. We wanted to find out what was on the shelves and whether it had changed since the legal high ban.

For those unaware, the Apothecary used to sell a variety of substances which, although advertised as, “not for human consumption” are intended for a bit of psychoactive fun.

These substances came in colourful plastic packaging often with names like Black Mamba, Clockwork Orange, or Happy Joker.

Now, walking into the Apothecary customers are faced with a wall of ambiguous green powders in glass jars – a mixture, we are told, of incenses and herbal remedies. Imagining the buying process to be something like that of an Amsterdam coffee shop we ask the lady behind the counter what she would suggest.

Her answer: “nothing”.

Under further probing the jars that she seems most shifty about are those containing “Kratom”. She refuses to tell us exactly what Kratom is and suggests we return when we have done our own research.

Naturally we bought a fair bit of it.

Further research tells us that Kratom is a tree native to Southeast Asia and is part of the same family as the coffee tree.

It is also an opium substitute.

Already one guinea pig had backed out, as he’d found the sight of the mysterious packets of green dust just a little bit too intimidating.

However there is the greater problem of how to ingest the Kratom. Online sources suggest a variety of options that include snorting, smoking and mixing in water.

The two that cropped up the most were swallowing in capsules and making it into a tea.

Seeing as it was three in the afternoon we decide that tea was the more appropriate option. About to stick the kettle on for a legal high cuppa we realise that the process requires some sort of filtration as opposed to just chucking the powdered Kratom into hot water.

With the research and the cowardice, the day was getting ever longer. Fearing that we would still be tripping heavily when we went our separate ways, I reached for the first solution that came to mind… my flatmate’s cafetiere.

So it’s gets to 5 o’clock, we’re sitting in the living room, watching the rugby, sipping on our Kratom tea. The hot drink tastes like a weak herbal tea and is surprisingly drinkable. Australia are two men down and holding back a Welsh onslaught as we pour a second round of tea and sit back and wait for any effects.

It’s another half an hour before any effects begin to appear and when they do they are slight.

Tingling arms and legs are the first symptoms along with slightly laboured breathing. However there is clearly an effect on the mood of those who have taken the tea. Saturday afternoon yawns soon turn to laughs and jokes as the energy levels seem to rise in the room.

The ongoing drama in the rugby as Australia manage to hold up two attempted Welsh tries continues unnoticed as the symptoms take a greater hold. Soon I was feeling filled to brim with energy – standing up and sitting down, turning constantly to survey those sitting next to me, drumming my fingers against the sofa.

We expected this to be the beginning of a heavier trip but it seems to level out at this point. We were all spaced out but at the same time very proactive – as though we’d drunk coffee at 5am. Hangovers from the night before are gone. It seems strangely mood-controlled.

Those planning a quiet one that night are settling further into the sofa talking of food and hot showers – the others running round looking for keys and coats to get to the shop for supplies. The good mood only increases when flatmates return and explanations have to be made about the strange green powder in the cafetiere.

The truth is this isn’t a hard drug at all. Kratom has been used for hundreds of year in parts of Asia for all manner of practices. It’s a painkiller, an anxiety remedy, a sexual stimulant.

And yes if taken in large enough doses, like those you’d expect a couple of bored uni students to take on a Saturday afternoon, then there are some similarities with the effects of recreational drugs you’d buy off a guy called Biggs.

But this is definitely not the kind of drug that would make someone go out and commit “violent and sexual crimes.”

Kratom, at least, is not the kind of substance that is, as MSP Graeme Pearson says, “a scourge and a growing menace that affects our society”.

The kind of legal highs that Mitchell and Pearson are talking about are long gone from the head shops of Edinburgh while the most potent NSPs, like Black Mamba or Spice, are still for sale online – no ID required.

If politicians  want to lay the blame of an apparent increase in legal high deaths this year on anyone perhaps they are better off trying their own government as opposed to Edinburgh’s small business owners.