Sharp fall in use of head shop drugs after ban introduced

Study appears to contradicts claims by critics of crackdown that it would drive demand underground rather than reducing it

Dr Bobby Smyth: said similar findings had been made in other countries where bans were introduced. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Dr Bobby Smyth: said similar findings had been made in other countries where bans were introduced. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Consumption of so-called legal highs fell sharply after a Government crackdown on “head shops” that sold them, new research indicates. There was a significant drop in both recent and problematic use among young people of psychoactive drugs in the year after the 2010 crackdown, according to scientists from Trinity College Dublin.

The study, although small in size, appears to confound claims made by critics of the crackdown that it would drive demand underground rather than reducing it. Researchers studied two groups of young people attending a drug and alcohol treatment centre in Dublin. The first group attended the service immediately before the legal changes designed to drive head shops out of business were introduced and the second attended a year later, after the ban came into effect.

The percentage of problematic users of head shop drugs fell from 34 per cent in the first group to zero in the second. The percentage who had used any such drugs in the previous three month fell dramatically from 82 per cent pre-ban to 28 per cent after it was introduced.

The study, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, showed those who continued to use head shop drugs after the ban was introduced did so in a lower risk manner. The legislative ban did not result in increased use of other substances such as cocaine and amphetamines.

Dr Bobby Smyth, lecturer in public health at Trinity and leader of the research, said similar findings had been made in other countries where bans were introduced. While the study could not prove a causal relationship between the closure of head shops and reductions in drug use, the magnitude of the fall and its timing were “very striking”.

At the height of the phenomenon, 16 per cent of young adults were using legal highs as head shops opened in towns and cities across the State.