“Legal highs” on the net—evaluation of UK-based websites, products and product information
Background: A vast array of substances are marketed as “legal highs” in the UK. These products are mainly marketed online and are packaged and produced to mimic illicit drugs. Little is known about the full range of products available at present and no studies have evaluated the product information provided to consumers. Aims & Hypothesis: To describe the available legal high products marketed by UK-based Internet retailers and evaluate the product information provided to consumers. Methods: Websites were identified using the terms “buy legal highs + UK” and two search engines. The first 100 hits and a random sample of 5% of the remaining results were screened. Websites based in the UK were included and all products were entered on a database. Information on product name, list price, claimed effects, side effects, contraindications and interactions was extracted. A descriptive analysis was conducted using SPSS v14. Results: 115 Websites met the inclusion criteria but due to duplicate listings this was reduced to 39 unique Websites. 1308 products were found and evaluated. The average product price was 9.69 British pounds. Products took the form of pills (46.6%), smoking material (29.7%) and single plant material/extract (18.1%). Most products claimed to be stimulants (41.7%), sedatives (32.3%), or hallucinogens (12.9%). 40.1% of products failed to list ingredients, 91.9% failed to list side effects, 81.9% failed to list contraindications and 86.3% failed to list drug interactions. Top 5 products (with active ingredients in brackets) by frequency were Salvia divinorum (Salivinorin A), Kratom (Mitragynine), Hawaiian Baby Woodrose Seeds (Lysergic Acid Amide), Fly Agaric (Ibotenic Acid, Muscimol) and Genie (JWH018, CP47497). Conclusions: Products marketed as “legal highs” are easily available from UK-based Internet retailers and are reasonably affordable. Safety information provided to consumers is poor. Uninformed users risk serious adverse effects.