Ketamine, an anaesthetic commonly used by vets, is becoming increasingly common on Britain's dance scene, according to drugs information body DrugScope.
Ketamine is becoming a 'substance of choice' in clubs say drugs workers
Researchers surveyed drug prices in 15 towns and cities and found ketamine on sale in eight. It did not feature at all in the same survey last year.
The drug is currently legal to possess but the government intends to make it class C before the end of 2005.
DrugScope also found ecstasy on sale from just 50p a pill.
'Out of body' effect
Spokeswoman for DrugScope, Petra Maxwell, said the survey's findings on ketamine highlighted a worrying trend:
"It is a drug that is very easy to take a higher dosage than is intended, even for experienced users," she said.
"You can get some unpleasant side effects, nausea, vomiting, and at the highest doses people can collapse and lose consciousness."
Ketamine is a general anaesthetic which has been used in hospitals and in veterinary medicine since the 1970s.
Among recreational users it is also known as K or Special K and can be in powder, tablet or liquid form.
KETAMINE ON SALE
Survey found ketamine in:
Effects depend on the dose but users report euphoria, hallucinations and "dissociative" feelings in which mind and body seem to separate.
It can be dangerous when taken in conjunction with alcohol or other depressants and users can be unable to move or feel pain while on the drug.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that ketamine use has been gradually increasing for several years - particularly on the gay scene - but it has recently become popular among mainstream club-goers.
"Ketamine has now established its place alongside the usual dance scene drugs like ecstasy," Nottingham drugs worker Pete Hurd told Druglink magazine in which the findings were published.
The DrugScope survey - in which researchers spoke to 40 frontline drugs agencies in a range of places from Glasgow to Torquay - also found new trends in the way drugs are sold.
One common development is heroin and crack being sold together in "two for one" or other discounted deals.
And in Portsmouth the price of heroin has halved in the past year, a move accompanied by dealers advertising their wares with calling cards placed near needle exchanges.
Jason Roberts, a drugs project worker in the city, said: "We have seen a huge increase in clients [drug users] over the last 12 months.
"Portsmouth is a lovely city and there is not that much crime, but the drugs problem is massive."
Ecstasy was also cheapest in Portsmouth with pills costing from 50p to £2. However, the place with the cheapest heroin was Sheffield at £25 a gram.
The survey also highlights regional differences such as the fact that crack is rarely sold in Belfast and Glasgow.
Users in these cities prefer to buy cocaine powder and convert it to crack themselves, according to drugs workers on the ground.
"We are seeing significant regional variations in both drug usage and drug markets," said Harry Shapiro, editor of Druglink.
"The emergence of ketamine as a key substance of choice is and entirely new phenomenon since we last carried out the survey in 2004 when it didn't figure at all."
DrugScope is an independent body which aims to provide expert information on drugs and to inform policy development.