TEENS in the area are snorting plant food to get the same highs as if they were taking cocaine or ecstasy, it has emerged.

Mephedrone is cheaper than regular "party drugs" and has become popular among some of the district's young people in the past few months under its disguise as plant food.

While cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine are still being used, mephedrone - not to be confused with heroin substitute methadone - is being used by an increasing number of young people who want the same high other drugs offer but for less money.

Mephedrone is classed as a "legal high" and described as a research chemical "not for human consumption", with side effects such as severe nosebleeds and paranoia.

A community drugs and alcohol support worker with REACT, Banbridge's local counselling service, said little is known about the drug even though it is becoming more popular among young people.

"Mephedrone is definitely becoming more prevalent among young people in Banbridge," said Deborah McCague.

"Young people, maybe aged 16 or 17 and above have come up to me and asked about it over the last three or four months and the overwhelming feeling among them is that it is safe because it is legal.

"There is still a lot of research being done into the effects of this drug.

"But I want to put the message out there that just because it is legal does not mean it is safe."

A police spokesperson said, "Mephedrone is currently not a controlled drug under the Misuse Drugs Act, however it is envisaged that it will become illegal later in 2010.

"As always the PSNI would strongly advise anyone who is offered drugs, other than under medical supervision, not to take them at any time.

"The potential risk of damage to your health from the misuse of any drug far outweighs any benefit you may think you are getting.

"PSNI Organised Crime Branch would welcome any information in relation to anyone involved in the supply or distribution of this drug."

The street value of drugs seized in Banbridge has risen since 2007, with 156,670 worth of illegal drugs found by police in 2009, including a seizure of 30,000 ecstasy tablets in Rathfriland last April.