LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The British government's drugs advisory body called on Wednesday for a ban on a popular smoking mixture, in its first official move to curb the rise of "herbal high" substances.
Spice Gold, and other types of blend that offer users a similar sensation to cannabis, is dangerous, according to the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
"These are not harmless herbal alternatives and have been found to cause paranoia and panic attacks," said ACMD Chairman Professor David Nutt.
The demand for herbal highs in Britain has increased rapidly, with a number of online sites and so-called "head shops" that sell legal drug paraphernalia reporting they have sold out of Spice Gold.
Spice Gold is made up of ingredients including dried flowers and leaves but the ACMD says it is coated with synthetic cannabinoids that imitate the effect of the active ingredient in cannabis.
"Young people think they are safer herbal alternatives to cannabis but they have the potential to be more harmful because users don't know the mixture and quantity of chemicals in the product," it warned.
An average 3-gram bag costs between 20-25 pounds ($32) and smokers can choose from flavors such as 'diamond', 'tropical' and 'Arctic.'
The mixture, which is said to smell like honey, marshmallow and vanilla, is already banned in many European countries including Germany and Austria.
Ulrich Zimmermann from Dresden Technical University, who published a report on the withdrawal effects of Spice Gold in July, said it was more dangerous than cannabis.
"People don't actually know what the ingredients are -- nobody knows what people add into those herbal blends. Nobody knows whether they are safe," he said.
The ACMD have passed their proposal to British interior minister Alan Johnson who will decide whether to ban Spice Gold in the next few weeks.
Editing by Steve Addison