Head shop popularity means drop in heroin and cocaine sales

The Liberty visits the Nirvana head shop on Clanbrassil Street

It was just over four years ago that Colm Hodkinson died. He had bought magic mushrooms from a ‘head shop’ in Dublin. He died from severe brain injuries after falling from a top floor balcony. His family blamed the mushrooms and successfully campaigned to have the sale of the hallucinogenic product made illegal.

Last year there was a clampdown on the sale of some of the products available in head shops containing benzylpiperazine (BZP), a recreational drug with euphoric and stimulant properties. There were public health warnings that consumption of the drug would lead to psychosis and seizures, although no deaths had been recorded.

As soon as these products were made illegal, a whole host of new pills and powders arrived in the head shops to replace them. Today they sell powders and pills that mimic the effects of cocaine, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA – what an ecstasy tablet should contain) and regular amphetamine (speed). There is also a vast range of smoking products as substitutes for hashish and marijuana.

Since the beginning of this year, the head shops have been back in the limelight. A fire in the Nirvana head shop on Capel Street, resulted in its demolition. Then on 16th February there was another fire at The Happy Hippy head shop on North Frederick Street.

The Liberty visited Nirvana on Clanbrassil Street. Upon arrival the first thing I see is a ‘strictly over 18s’ sign, this is self regulation – there is no law preventing these shops to sell to anyone of any age.

The shop contains an impressive array of bongs, pipes, incense, home-grow kits, powerful grow lamps and grinders of every shape and size. Then there are the powders, pills and smoking substitutes. One of the powders called Flake, claims it’s ‘even better than the real thing’.

The shop assistants are very helpful and knowledgeable about the products. They tell me what affect each has and which drug it is most similar to. When I ask what is in the products, I get a shrug of the shoulders and an “I don’t know, I just put them up on the shelf….and take them now and again”.

While I’m in the shop, there is a constant stream of customers and dozens of bank notes handed over the counter. There’s no recession in here. One of the customers, Robbie, informs me that Star Dust and Wild Cat “give you the best buzz”. He is in no doubt as to who is responsible for the fires, “it’s the drug dealers,” he says, “they don’t like losing money to these guys”. A young looking customer is asked for identification but protests that he’s always in buying stuff. The assistant eventually relents and agrees to sell the customer some Spice Gold and White Ice resin.

So what lies ahead for head shops? It has been said that they only have about three more months before new legislation is brought in that will greatly impair their ability to continue to operate. Is this a good thing?

It has been confirmed that both heroin and cocaine street sales have declined since publicity over the head shops began. An RTE Prime Time special claimed that addicts were now using the head shops instead of their regular dealers as they were cheaper and perceived to be less likely to ‘cut’ drugs like the criminal gangs do. Do we want to criminalise legal drugs and increase sales of illegal ones? Would you prefer to buy drugs from a drug dealer or from a licensed retailer?

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