A SMOKER has told how he blew more than £20,000 after becoming hooked on a controversial legal high.
Brian Douglas decided to speak out about herbal incense – legally available in shops and on the internet – in the hope it will discourage others.
He says the substances have wrecked his health, forced him away from friends and plunged him into debt.
Figures show legal highs – known as new psychoactive substances – were linked to two deaths a week in Scotland in 2013, a figure which has more than doubled in three years.
Yet police are powerless to clamp down on their use under existing laws – with manufacturers simply marking packets as “not for human consumption”.
But Brian fears any ban may come too late for others like him who began experimenting with the drugs in the false belief that they couldn’t be harmful if they were openly on sale.
He said: “I want people to know how dangerous these substances are. I tried to quit at the weekend after I collapsed at work and was left with an uncontrollable shaking.”
Brian, 23, who lives in the north of Scotland, became addicted to herbal incense and smokes it in rolled-up cigarettes with tobacco.
The drug sells in shops across Scotland under names such as Black Mamba, Annihilation, Damnation, Evolution and Happy Joker.
He said: “I smoke about 60 cigarettes a day with tobacco and incense. At first, it’s like cannabis – it makes you feel high, relaxed and disorientated.
“Now I hate the taste of it, the smell of it and the way it makes me feel. It’s just that if I don’t have it, I can’t eat, I can’t sleep and I can’t function.
“When I got home last night, I sat up all night unable to sleep. I haven’t eaten for four days. It’s ridiculous – and they’re legal. There’s a shop in most towns or cities selling it.
“I was 18 when a friend asked if I wanted to try it. They said it was new, like a kind of legal weed.
“That was five years ago and I don’t think I have gone longer than two days without having it since.
“I’ve got into thousands of pounds worth of debt. I’ve got depression to the point where I’ve tried to take my life several times to get away from it. It is impossible to quit. It’s horrific.
“It’s £25 for three grams and I’ve smoked nine grams a week minimum for five years so I’ve spent over £20,000.”
Police Scotland national drug co-ordinator Detective Inspector Michael Miller said: “The term ‘legal high’ is misleading and gives a connotation of safety.
“There is no safe way to take new psychoactive substances – there is always a risk. The only way to stay safe is to avoid them altogether.
“People can’t be sure what they are taking. The content varies and can contain harmful and potentially toxic substances.”
Neil McKeganey, of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research, said: “Synthetic cannabis has been shown to be more harmful than illegal cannabis. There are extreme psychological and physical reactions.
“The marketing and open sale, labelled ‘not for human consumption’, is nothing short of a scandal. We shouldn’t have drugs this harmful available on high streets.
“Even Portugal, which has decriminalised the use of heroin, cocaine and LSD, has banned the sale of legal highs in shops.
“In the UK, we wait until there is evidence of harm and then ban individual substances.
“But legal highs are being produced at the rate of more than five per week and there are around 450 identified.”
Laws on drug control are reserved to the UK Government.
The Scottish Government said: “It has become clear over the past few years that the danger of so-called ‘legal highs’ represents a significant challenge.