Legal highs fuel rise of rough sleeping on streets of Camden

PUBLISHED: 06:30 22 January 2016

Packets of legal highs: Synthetic cannabis is sold under street names such as Black Mamba, Bud Factory, Pandora's Box, and XLRS

Packets of legal highs: Synthetic cannabis is sold under street names such as Black Mamba, Bud Factory, Pandora's Box, and XLRS


The sale of super-strength legal highs such as Spice and Clockwork Orange - said to be as addictive as crack cocaine and heroin - is believed to have led to a rise in young people on the streets of Camden.

A customer entering a legal high shop.A customer entering a legal high shop.

The number of young rough sleepers in Camden Town and King’s Cross has soared in the last two years because of the trade in dangerous synthetic drugs sold as ‘extreme herbal incense’, the Ham&High can reveal.

Although marketed as ‘Not for human consumption’, experts warn the new generation of chemical highs are so strong they can prompt psychotic episodes and the fall-out is placing increased strain on health services.

Ian Bangay, of Camden Council’s Safer Streets team, which works with street sleepers, said: “We noticed in the spring of 2014 that we were seeing a lot more people rough sleeping who were younger than average.

“We hadn’t noticed them before and they were here because of the legal high situation.”

Legal highs: The facts

Synthetic cannabinoids have street names including Spice, Clockwork Orange, Black Mamba and Bud Factory.

They are sold in colourful plastic pouches that look like sticker packets and cost as little as £5 per 1g.

Are they legal?

Some cannabinoids have been classified as Class B drugs in the UK, making it an offence to have, give away or sell them.

However legislation has struggled to keep pace as new generations of legal highs use subtly altered chemical compounds to stay ahead of the law.

They are sold as ‘Extreme chemical incense’ which is labelled as ‘Not for human consumption’. With this marking it is not currently against the law to sell legal highs.

How easy are they to buy?

Our reporter visited Camden Market this week and found no legal highs on open sale.

But in just 15 minutes the Ham&High found a website selling Clockwork Orange and Bud Factory that accepted credit card payment and offered delivery to our office.

Other sites even offer loyalty points to incentivise customers to return for repeat sales.

How is it used?

The synthetic drug is sprayed onto pieces of green plant to mimic the look of cannabis and sold in plastic packets.

A dose the size of a match head is enough to stimulate an intense high but people often smoke an entire joint’s worth without realising its strength.

What are the risks?

The drugs education service Frank says cannabinoids have been directly linked to poisoning, emergency hospital admissions and, in some cases, death.

The new generation of drugs, known as synthetic cannaboids, are made in factories and cost as little as £5 to buy. They produce similar effects to illegal drugs but are stronger and can cause severe anxiety, paranoia and confusion.

Young people who are vulnerable to becoming rough sleepers, such as children in care or teenagers living in abusive households, are thought to end up on the streets more quickly as they are exposed to legal highs.

The substances are so addictive that even hardened heroin addicts can end up hooked, outreach workers say.

“I’ve seen people who are long-term Class A drug users, crack and heroin intravenous drug users, coming off and using these legal highs,” said Mr Bangay.

“That’s how strong these things are. They are very dangerous things indeed.”

The number of rough sleepers in Camden topped 600 for the first time in five years in 2015, as revealed by the Ham&High last week, and legal highs are said to be a key factor in the rise.

The extreme adverse reactions they can cause are also understood to be affecting health services.

“It is placing strain on the NHS,” said Mr Bangay. “There are many instances of people having psychotic episodes as a result of these things.

“They’re brought into hospital and two hours later they’re fine. But they’ve used up a bed, space and resources.”

Camden Council has carried out work to hinder the trade, targeting shops and market stalls that sell legal highs. Last year trading standards officers carried out 41 enforcement visits and four investigations are ongoing.

But experts say a change in the law is necessary to end the cat and mouse game of new drugs appearing on the market more quickly than the government can identify and ban them.

Cllr Jonathan Simpson, cabinet member for community safety said: “Camden is very concerned about the availability of these products - we have been and will continue to 
carry out work targeting those seeking to make a profit through these dangerous products, however we need residents to join us in tacking this growing problem.

“We strongly urge residents to let us know about any 
‘under-the-counter sales’ they know about, or hear of, in Camden by calling the Citizens Advice Consumer Services line on 03454 04 05 06, so we can investigate and take action accordingly.

“We are considering using anti-social behaviour legislation to ban these products, in line with other boroughs.”

NEXT WEEK: Almost half of rough sleepers in Camden are foreign nationals. We reveal the 46 nationalities sleeping on the streets of the borough.

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