Britain's recreational drug users are switching loyalties from expensive cocaine to a cheaper and more lethal option - Ketamine, a drug commonly used as a horse tranquillizer.
In the survey by the charity DrugScope, nine out of 20 areas reported rise in the use of the drug, known as "Special K" or "Raver's Smack".
AdvertisementAccording to figures revealed by the British Crime Survey, the use of the drug last year increased nationally by 10 per cent on 2006-07.
The drug, which once exclusively belonged to the rave and dance scene, is getting more popular among Britain's middle-class users due to its price and the myth that it is a "safe" and "clean" drug.
A gram of ketamine costs 20 pounds, half as much as the same amount of cocaine.
On the other hand, a survey carried out by Professor David Nutt, the chairman of the Government's drug advisory panel, has listed the class C drug as the sixth most dangerous illegal drug available.
The survey revealed that ketamine was more harmful than Ecstasy and cannabis.
Thinking that the substance is risk-free, many young people are open to trying ketamine and taking it in increasingly higher doses.
However, experts have claimed that it can cause heart or lung failure, and has also been linked to 23 deaths between 1993 and 2006.
"There is worrying evidence that people are experimenting with larger amounts or are even injecting the drug. Evidence of young people using ketamine is a particular concern, especially as many users may underestimate the risks involved," the Independent quoted Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, as saying.
The drug can be snorted, swallowed, injected and even smoked. While it is not physically addictive, unlike cocaine and heroin, but, like cannabis and Ecstasy, it is psychologically addictive.
Ketamine's popularity has grown from an estimated 60,000 users between 1998 and 2000 to about 113,000 in 2008.
Mr. Barnes added: "It is becoming very popular and it's a drug that a lot of people are talking about. The very fact that the price is falling shows how popular it is becoming. Three years ago, when we started this study, it was selling for about Ģ30 a gram, now it is Ģ20. The fall in price does suggest that the people who are selling the stuff have no problems getting hold of it."
Initially used to treat injured soldiers in Vietnam, ketamine is now most commonly used as a horse tranquillizer. It has also been experimented with to treat depression and alcohol and heroin addiction.
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