As a blanket ban on so-called legal highs has come into force in the UK today fears have been raised that banning legal highs could drive people to using illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine.

Legal highs will become illegal tomorrow (Thurs) because of concerns over the health risk they pose. The substances, which are designed to have a similar effect to other drugs, have also been linked to anti-social behaviour.

However, Professor David Nutt, a former Government drugs tsar and an expert in how drugs affect the brain, believes the new law will simply force people who use legal highs to buy them on the street instead.

He told the Independent: “The only people who will benefit will be the drug dealers. They’ll have a monopoly.”

And he warned that once people started buying from dealers, they would be more likely to be persuaded to try harder drugs like heroin or crack.

Use of psychoactive substances has risen

Legal highs have become increasingly popular in recent years and they were involved in 68 deaths in England and Northern Ireland in 2012. The United Nations’ World Drug Report in 2013 claimed 670,000 people aged between 15 and 24 had tried legal highs on at least one occasion.

Laws criminalising the production, distribution, sale and supply of what are otherwise known as new psychoactive substances began at midnight.

The chemicals, sold under names such as spice and black mamba, are designed to give users the same effect as drugs such as cannabis and cocaine.

Last year legal highs were linked to more than 100 deaths in the UK and a rise in violent assaults in prison.

Offenders who break the new laws will face up to seven years in prison under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Police will also be able to shut down “headshops” – stores which sells drug paraphernalia – and online dealers in the UK.

People could face up to seven years in prison if they make is supply drugs which could have a psychoactive effect on the person who takes them. Before the law change, legal highs could be bought online as well as from head shops and even convenience stores.

Harry Shapiro, chief executive of DrugWise, said the legislation would not stop people taking legal highs as they would start being sold by dealers instead.

He said: “The same people selling heroin and crack will simply add this to their repertoire. The easiest thing for any Government to do is to stop people buying these things from shops next to Mothercare, but don’t imagine that is going to solve the problem.”

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