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There's nothing natural about head shops and 'legal highs'

I got a rather frightening call one night in the wee hours from an old friend.

He wanted to know if he was dead.

It took me a while to make sense of what he was saying, but the gist of the story was this: he'd wandered past a shop, stopped, backed up and looked in, curious. The window was filled with bright glass globes, pipes, cigarette papers and eye-catching pictures.

It was a head shop. Looked innocent enough -- fun even.

He's no druggie. He probably hasn't even inhaled as much as Bill Clinton.

He went in for a wander and noticed all the little packets and sachets on sale under a banner proclaiming 'legal highs'.

Legal highs? he asked.

"Perfectly legal and natural," the shopkeeper explained, recommending a ready-rolled 'herbal' for less than the price of a pint.

My friend looked at the 'rollie'. Sure, what harm could it do? After all, it wouldn't be legal if it was harmful, surely?

Legal means lawful, implies sanctioned. But hold on, he argued with himself. Glue is legal, isn't it? And glue melts the brains of idiot teenagers who sniff it.

But glue isn't sold for the purpose of inhaling or ingesting. This little item between our hero's thumb and forefinger now is sold solely for the purpose of lighting up and enjoying.

He lit it, took a few drags -- and so began a nightmare that lasted hours. It was, he said, the way acid trips in the 70s had been described to him. His eyes bulged, he sweated bullets and felt like he was on a rollercoaster. His heart felt like a freight train in his chest and he was pinned to his chair. The fact is, most of these products aren't very natural at all.

Think how attractive these places are to 15-year-olds. Not good. Neither is the argument that by closing these places down you drive these products underground into the hands of criminals.

Good. Because being lifted by the law might be a better deterrent to putting some of the crap on sale in these shops into your body.

Bright colours and cool music are no deterrent at all.