"Bath salts" and other innocent-sounding products on the shelves of "head shops" and other stores in Ireland are giving an increasing number of people a legal high, with the same buzz that comes from alcohol and illegal drugs — but without a hangover.
Retail outlets and Internet sites that specialize in drug paraphernalia — traditionally things like pipes and bongs, New Age herbs and the like are increasingly coming under fire — literally.
In recent weeks, two such stores were torched in what Garda (police) believe may be a counterattack from drug-pushers, who feel the stores are stealing their clients.
The "legal highs" come in packages whose names suggest it's an innocent product; in reality, it's for getting high.
Packets of these so-called bath salts or incense are in fact meant to be smoked, snorted or swallowed. Nobody is putting these salts in their bathtubs.
The Los Angelers Times interviewed a customer of one of these shops in Dublin — Chris, last name kept anonymous, a bookeeper.
He says he enjoys popping two or three "bath salts" a night to get him high.
The Times reports that "the makers of Snow 'bath salts,' for instance, inform buyers that adding their 'fine white powder' will make them chatty and peppy, but warn against the presence of heavy machinery in the bathroom."
"I find it much less debilitating than alcohol," Chris told The Times.
The bath salts, among other oddly packaged products, are becoming popular for partying in Ireland. According to Irish journalists, a number of head shops, many of which are open until the early hours of the morning, have popped up around the country in the last 12 months, since the economy went into a tailspin.
Authorities are not yet able to regulate the shops and their products.
Dublin politician and Labor Party member Joe Costello told The Times that "nobody knows precisely" what's in the packages.
"They're labeled as 'not for human consumption,' but when you go into the shop, you're told how to consume it, how to inject it," lawmaker Costello said.
"We have a range of substances that are sold that really are not regulated, that nobody knows precisely what's in them, nobody knows the quantities that are being sold or taken."
Last month, the Irish government passed a bill o outlaw a range of substance sold at these head shops, including mephedrone, which is likened to the Ecstasy in its effects on the body and mind. The ban goes into effect in June.
Shane O'Connor, who runs a number of head shops in the Irish capital, says he agrees with tighter controls and guidelines being implemented in window displays, as well as age limits for customers. But he says the idea of closing down the stores is absurd.
"Prohibition doesn't remove demand," he says. "The only way to remove demand for illegal drugs is to offer safer legal alternatives."