More than 650 new designer drugs have flooded into Europe in the past decade, according a major project to monitor the emergence of new substances.
Experts at the Recreational Drugs European Network has identified a wide range of new so called “legal highs” that have been manufactured to mimic illegal drugs.
The chemicals, which are often made in China and India before being sold over the internet, are appearing faster than it is possible for authorities to ban them.
It means some of the drugs are being sold legally over the internet while others are disguised as other products such as plant food and incense.
Researchers who have been analysing the new substances have found highly potent hallucinogens and stimulants among the new drugs.
As little is known about how these drugs work or their effects on the human body and brain, the scientists warn they can be dangerous and easy to overdose with.
Often the “novel psychoactive substances”, as they are known to the authorities, are enhanced forms of common illegal drugs and can pose serious health risks.
The scientists leading the project have also found that many of the new substances contain high impurities that pose a risk to the health of those who take them.
Ornella Corazza, principal lecturer in mental health at the University of Hertfordshire who has helping to lead the project, said: “These new drugs appear very, very quickly.
“During the past 10 years we have identified over 650 novel substances.
“There are hundreds of internet sites selling these products. They are just a click away from our homes.
“The real risk is that there is no way of knowing what these drugs really are or what they might contain.”
The researchers now have a licence from the Home Office to buy and conduct tests on these new drugs as part of a project to better understand what they are.
They have tested 12 new substances in the past few months and found that at least 60 per cent of the drugs contain high levels of impurities.
Most had caffeine but also contained chemicals that have still to be completely identified.
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