Alarm Anne Marie
Young people in Greater Manchester are being warned about the dangers of taking legal highs, just a day after police revealed two deaths in Wigan could be down to contaminated Ecstasy.
Health experts in Manchester have told Capital the lack of information about the effects of the drugs - which tend to be bought online - are putting users at risk.
Anecdotal evidence suggests thousands of young people in the city are taking them, with a rising number reporting problems.
The warnings from Manchester's Mental Health and Social Care Trust come at the same time as police investigate the deaths of two Wigan men, both of whom had taken Ecstasy.
It's thought the batch of multi-coloured heart-shaped tablets may have been contaminated as the victims, 28-year-old Gareth Ashton and 19-year-old Jordan Chambers, both experienced blindness before their deaths.
The side effects of legal highs, however, can include anything from a small rash to a strong psychotic reaction and have even led, in some rare cases, to death.
"Many users of legal highs experience some very grim side effects such as anxiety and panic attacks, nausea and skin rashes," said Colin Tyrie, who manages Manchester's Drug Harm Reduction Team.
"The worst case scenario is overdose toxicity due to repeated use or 'fiending' as it is known among users."
Capital's been told one of the biggest problems is the fact that the drugs are so widely available.
"These sorts of drugs are becoming increasingly popular because they are easy to get hold of and relatively cheap," said Colin.
"The fact that legal highs are available either on-line or in specialist shops makes them misleadingly appealing because it feels safer than buying illegal drugs on the street," said Colin.
"This also makes them appear safer to use - but the problem is that we don't know as much about them as we do illegal drugs, making it difficult to offer advice to users.
This is compounded by the strange legal situation which means that sellers of the drugs cannot offer advice or information about the contents because the packaging states that they are 'not for human consumption' or 'for research purposes only'.
We have a kind of 'Catch-22 whereby the law of the land actually increases the potential of harm from these drugs."
Colin added that the definition of 'legal' for these types of drugs is misleading.
"Though these are 'legal' in the sense that you won't go to prison for possessing or buying them, police can still detain or arrest you if the substance looks illegal," he said. "At the very least, they can confiscate and test them.
"In some circumstances, 'legal' highs can even contain chemicals that it is actually illegal to possess."
A campaign called 'Do you know what you're getting?' has begun, targeting groups who are known to be more likely to use legal highs such as students and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) groups.
Postcards, leaflets and even specially produced packs of dolly mixture sweets have been distributed to pubs, bars and clubs.
The dolly mixtures ask 'what's in the mix - do you know what you're buying?' in an effort to get the message across.
Colin wants anyone thinking about using 'legal highs' to have an anonymous discussion with specialist staff at the Ancoats Harm Reduction Clinic beforehand.