A dangerous legal high that landed three teenagers in hospital vomiting blood has been on sale in shops across Wales.
The drug Clockwork Orange is available to buy in shops and online described as “herbal incense” and promising a buzz that lasts just under an hour when smoked with tobacco.
Last Sunday three 15-year-olds from Blyth, Northumberland, fell ill after taking the substance and were hospitalised.
The two girls and one boy have since returned home form hospital but with Clockwork Orange showing similarities to substances like Black Mamba and Mexxy – which were banned and made Class B drugs in February – experts have said “just because something is legal, that does not make it safe”.
Rebel Rebel, a shop that sells a number of legal and herbal highs in the Wyndham Arcade, Cardiff, sold one gram of the herbal incense on Thursday to a WalesOnline reporter for £10.25.
With ominous orange, gold and yellow packaging and a pungent orange aroma, the substance looks not unlike cannabis and comes with fine print warning the user to not inhale or swallow, with the substance referred to as “a research chemical and for lab reagent use only”.
On Friday a staff member said the shop had “taken it off sale” that morning and were “being responsible due to media coverage”, but Clockwork Orange is still available in other stores across Wales and is easily purchased on a number of legal high websites.
With at least one new drug being concocted every week, so-called legal highs often arise from producers tweaking the chemical compound of an illegal drug, resulting in a slightly different but no less dangerous narcotic.
Ross Woodfield, from Cardiff based In Roads street drugs project, said there was always an element of danger when using “new and emerging drugs” and after previously unclassified Mephedrone was made a Class B drug in 2010, there is every possibility of something similar happening to Clockwork Orange and its cannabis-like properties.
“What they are is drugs that mimic the effects of illegal drugs. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes,” said Mr Woodfield.
“They’ve got one thing in common and that’s that very little is known about them – what the long-term effects are and what the long-term problems are.
“They’re no less risky than illegal drugs and in fact they are probably more risky just because very little is known about them.”
The National Poison Information Service have been made aware of Clockwork Orange and are looking into the substance.
Professor Simon Thomas, a director at the National Poison Information Service, said that one of the main concerns is that sellers themselves know very little about the product they are giving to the public.
He said the likely makeup of the drug was a herbal background fortified by a synthetic chemical not unlike cannabis.
And he said these kind of combinations can lead to a potent product riddled with side-effects including vomiting, seizures and could even result in entering a coma.
“Legal highs generally are quite commonly used and quite commonly result in people developing unexpected, unpleasant symptoms, often ending them up in hospital,” said Prof Thomas.
“Just because something is legal, doesn’t make it safe. There’s very little experience of human use so when people take them it’s not surprising that people have reactions that are not expected and unpleasant.
“What happens is people that manufacture these chemicals make relatively minor changes to the molecular structure and chemical formula of a known illegal drug to produce a new unclassified one.
“Occasionally they can be even more hazardous than the original drug on which they were modelled.”
The Home Office said the matter was being taken very seriously.
A spokesperson said: “We are aware of Clockwork Orange being advertised as an uncontrolled synthetic cannabinoid and work will be undertaken to test this particular substance.
“So called ‘legal highs’ cannot be assumed to be safe and frequently contain substances that are not legal.
“We are addressing the issue, by outlawing not just individual drugs, but whole families of related substances that have the potential to cause serious harm.”