Britain's economic recession could have driven more people to legal highs to "help them through", drug experts have warned.
Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, Yasmin Batliwala, chair of the Westminster Drug Project charity, said: "Because they're legal, they're easier to get hold of and probably very much cheaper.
"I suspect when we have a recession, people are more likely to want to take drugs to help them through their time and they’re more likely to go for legal highs because money isn’t around and they’re cheaper."
There are now over 250 legal highs shops on Britain's streets, with the country now seen as an "international hub" for buyers online.
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Batiwala contrasted the rise in legal high consumption with falling rates for people taking illegal drugs like heroin and crack.
"I suspect some of the decline for drugs like heroin and crack is because there has been publicity out there, and so it has been having a lot of impact on people."
Despite the allure of the drugs being "legal", Batiwala added: "The fact that the substance is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe at all."
Batiwala's warning is backed up by research published in 2011 by the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research, which found that: "an economic downturn of the current magnitude could increase the use of drugs".
Other drug experts have warned that the law is failing to hold back a growing tide of legal highs, as untested substances mimicking banned drugs are on sale in takeaways, newsagents and pet shops.
"The chemistry is outstripping the law", Harry Shapiro, of DrugScope, told HuffPost UK.