Homeless people are injecting each other with “bath salts” in the latest deadly drug craze to strike Brighton and Hove.

Council officials are pleading with shops to stop selling the dangerous legal high “poke”, which is now the drug of choice for many among the city's street community.

At one homeless hostel, the council-run West Pier Project in Regency Square, residents regularly hold wild “poke parties” where they inject the cocaine-like powder into themselves and each other.

Charity bosses said poke, although still legal, was “incredibly dangerous” and damaged users' mental health.

One homeless man who stays at the West Pier Project revealed the poke parties were happening several times a week.

He said: “People don't really do heroin in here anymore. They all just sit around together in the bedrooms jacking up with poke.

“The managers have tried to stop us but poke's legal, so we just ignore them.”

Poke is part of a group of synthetic drugs known as “bath salts” which have been blamed for a series of violent rampages across the world including a psychotic cannibal attack in Miami in May last year.

It is freely available in shops across the city, where a half gram costs £15.

On the brightly-coloured packet which carries the warning Not For Human Consumption, a message reads: “Toxic symptoms may include panic, convulsions or any manifestation of acute psychosis”.

Since the drug soared in popularity, council bosses have pleaded with shops to stop selling poke to residents at the West Pier Project - but with “mixed success”.

Managers at the hostel have also banned residents from inviting guests into their rooms in a bid to stop the parties.

Bec Davison, deputy director of the Brighton-based drug charity CRI, said poke had been steadily on the rise in the city for “about 18 months”.

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She said: “The drugs market has changed a lot in the last couple of years. People often don't know what they're taking anymore which is incredibly risky.

“Injecting poke is dangerous because the mental health effects are much worse and the withdrawal can take up to three days.

“The challenge for us is the availability of this drug - it's cheap and it's on sale everywhere.”

A spokesman for Brighton and Hove City Council said: “The project does not allow these parties.

“It has acted to stop them happening by preventing residents having more than one guest in their rooms at a time.

“The drug is legal and on sale locally. We have approached retailers asking them to stop selling to West Pier Project clients, but with mixed results.”