A LEGAL high which is thought to be behind the deaths of several homeless people is more damaging than heroin, a top doctor has warned.

Tim Worthley, a Brighton and Hove doctor who tends to rough sleepers, warned the product Spice triggers off underlying health problems.

His comments comes after our exclusive story on January 27 confirming that more than 50 homeless people have died in Brighton and Hove over a three-year period.

Dr Tim, as his patients call him, said that of the 21 deaths he recorded last year, five of those were suicides.

He said: "I think spice is implicated in at least three of the suicides.

"I would say it’s definitely causing a significant deterioration in my patients’ mental health.

"A lot of my patients say it is more damaging to their mental health than heroin or cocaine."

The Argus has spoken to several homeless people who said Spice played a part in the demise of their friends by triggering underlying conditions such as heart problems or depression.

Big Issue seller, Frank Da Costa, 48, said: "They have got to take that stuff off the streets because it's killing people."

Spice is smoked in a similar way to illegal drugs such as cannabis but, since being seen in shops in the late 2000s, is marketed as a "herbal incense" and "not for human consumption".

Both Brighton and Hove City Council and Sussex Police warn against using it.

Dr Worthley said: "If it’s not for human consumption, then what is it for?

"Smoking it three of four days a week is when it really has an impact.

"It’s extraordinary that you can walk into a shop in Brighton and buy a legal high that can be so damaging to your health."

He added: "A lot of it is escapism. Spice is a very effective way to escape your trauma but there does seem to be an addictive component in it."

A police spokesman said: "Some people use these products instead of drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and amphetamine because they are told that they are legal and therefore make the assumption they are safe. That is an unwise assumption as legal does not mean safe."

He said individuals risk being arrested for possession of a controlled drug and spending time on bail while the substance is analysed.

A council spokesman added: “We are very aware of Spice and other legal highs and are already working with our partner agencies in the city to reduce use and to raise awareness of the harm they cause."

Homelessness charity St Mungo's Broadway provides support for rough sleepers who use legal highs but the council cannot force people to engage with the advice offered.

In 2014 Sussex Police were called to 75 incidents where legal highs are mentioned.