A Bradford drug-testing expert is warning that Britain could be gripped by an epidemic of ‘legal-highs’ in five years unless the Government acts fast.

Retired police chief Les Vasey says Spice – a man-made drug with a similar effect to cannabis – is just “the tip of an iceberg” of a whole new trend of legal designer substances.

Even though Spice, which can be up to five times more powerful than cannabis, has been banned in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands – it has not been outlawed in the UK.

Mr Vasey, whose company Modern Health Systems develops drug tests, said: “If it’s not banned now we will have huge regrets in five years’ time. It will be the next big social evil.”

He said Spice, sold freely in herbal shops and online for smoking or as incense, is “a middle-class designer drug”.

“It’s more expensive than cannabis but it’s not detectable yet,” he said. That’s the appeal of it – especially for professionals, who don’t want to risk being prosecuted.

“It’s terrifying but it’s a fact that you could have airline pilots who’ve taken it and are flying over heavily-populated areas while at the moment there’s nothing to test for it. That’s why we want to develop a way of detecting it. We’re looking at doing that now.”

Last week, Spice and other legal highs were debated by the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

A working party has now been set up to look at the availability and harmfulness of the herbal mixtures and it will report back to the Home Office.

Spice, mainly imported from China, is usually sold in 3g packets from about £16 – other names are Spice Gold, Spice Tropical Synergy, Spice Diamond and Yucatan Fire.

Known chemically as JWH-018, the substance in Spice was first developed by an American academic for research purposes in 1995.

Mr Vasey welcomed the Home Office’s awareness and said: “Even the man who made it said it’s good for nothing other than to get high.

“You don’t need a Phd to be a pharmacist. The danger is if these herbal highs are not taken seriously and banned now, we’ll get people mixing it in their own in their sheds, bulking them out with other ingredients that could be even more risky and selling them on for more money.”

West Yorkshire Police Drugs Co-ordinator Bryan Dent said: “We need to be cautious about any substance taken to affect moods, whether that substance is legal or illegal.

“We watch for trends and will see what the working party recommends to the Home Office. In the meantime, there is no such thing as a safe ‘drug’.”