Head shops are retail outlets that specialize in counter culture art, music, clothing and drug paraphernalia. They also sell legal highs, research chemicals, herbal highs and associated goods. Pills, powders, herbal mixes, rolling papers, scales, smoking pipes, water pipes, filters and gel caps for herbal mixes are sold in these shops. Head shop drugs are typically sold as herbal highs made from natural substances. This claim is often incorrect with these legal highs made of combinations of psychoactive chemicals, herbs and high levels of caffeine. Many of the drugs are sold as substances that mimic the effects of illicit drugs like MDMA, cocaine or amphetamines.
Head shops first appeared in the 1960s at the height of the hippy era and were known for selling psychedelic art, posters, black lights and magic mushrooms. They also dealt in books on psychedelic culture, left-wing political ideas, revolutionist newspapers and new age religious texts. These shops have evolved over time and in line with regulations and laws regarding the sale of psychedelic drugs. Many of them specialize in items used to enhance the experience of drug taking, to heighten spiritual connections and promote eco-living. Many of the stores are sites to promote music events, alternative lifestyle events like yoga, meditation, communes and workshops on psychic development, tarot readings and palmistry.
The major concern about head shops is the increasing demand and popularity of the drugs they sell. Many new, unknown psychoactive substances are being sold through these stores as legal highs, herbal highs or research chemicals. These substances are potentially dangerous, as they can contain harmful chemicals with unknown properties that can cause a person to have adverse reactions. In many cases, the packaging and labeling of these head shop drugs are not correct and they are not controlled. Often the drugs are mixes of chemicals and herbs of unknown quantity or purity. Health officials have concerns that the lack of quality control of the production, distribution and sale of the products will lead to major health problems.
Legal highs, herbal highs and research chemicals are all potentially very harmful drugs. These substances can cause psychiatric disturbances, interact with medications, cause adverse reactions when used in conjunction with alcohol and may contribute to or exacerbate mental illness. Common side effects of taking head shop drugs range from headaches, nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, muscle aches, confusion, short-term memory loss, body tremors, jaw clenching, hallucinations and paranoia. Anxiety, excessive aggression and psychosis are some of the other common symptoms. These reactions are magnified when a person takes a cocktail of herbal or legal substances in combination with alcohol or other drugs. It is unknown whether these drugs have an impact on long term mental health, cause damage to internal organs or can cause harm to an unborn child.
Research chemicals are experimental chemicals that have been designed to produce effects that mimic other drugs such as ecstasy, amphetamines, cannabis or psychoactive drugs. They are labeled as research chemicals because they are new substances with relatively information available regarding their effects. Toxicity is often unknown and information about the experience these drugs give a user are usually based on small human studies.
Research chemicals have become increasingly popular with young and inexperienced drug users who can purchase these substances online or in head shops. Research chemicals are often similar in molecular structure to illicit drugs such as cocaine, MDMA or opium or they could be different chemicals that are combined to produce an experience similar to psychoactive substances. These substances are potentially very dangerous as they range in purity, effects and combinations. There is very limited information regarding recommended dosages, interactions with other drugs and basic information about the experience of the drug. Research chemicals are just like any other psychoactive substance that should be used with care and caution as their reactions differ from person to person and can be unpredictable.
The typical head shop drug user is young, inexperienced and reckless. They take this type of drugs when drunk, at a festival or nightclub, in combination with other drugs and in binges. They are often not aware of what the drug will do to them besides make them high, hallucinate, feel euphoric or mellow them out. Young drug users are the most at risk of all substance users as they are the most likely to engage in high risk activities such as driving a vehicle when under the influence, having unsafe sex or being involved in antisocial or criminal activity. These people are also among the least likely to seek help for their friends in the case of an adverse reaction or overdose for fear of the repercussions of their involvement.
Young and inexperienced drug users often take substances in combination with other drugs, legal and illegal. This kind of experimentation is done to increase their experience, such as to make them higher, stay awake longer or have stronger hallucinations. However, when taking drugs in this way, they are putting themselves at risk of having an adverse reaction. Some combinations can make a person violently ill, suffer severe side effects and even prove fatal.
The danger of consuming head shop drugs with other substances is no less severe than that associated with taking other drugs. Despite the fact that these substances are bought in a shop, they are dangerous, harmful and can cause bad reactions. They may be cheaper, more accessible and more accepted than illegal drugs, but the ingredients can be very strong. Some head shop drugs contain herbs like kratom, salvia divinorum, mescaline cacti, hallucinogenic mushrooms or other strong psychoactive plants.