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An essential guide to new psychoactive substances

The phrase ‘legal high’ is a complete contradiction in terms. New Psychoactive Substances, as they are also known, are actually far from legal and, in many cases, even further from being safe. The penalties for possessing legal highs can be extremely harsh, both in terms of prison sentences and serious health risks.

There is as much uncertainty as there is mythology surrounding legal highs. The UK market has been flooded with a dizzying array of herbal and chemical substances that mimic the effects of legal drugs like ecstasy, cocaine and cannabis, and are sold using catchy brand names like ‘Bliss’, ‘Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Mary Jane.’ But users should be under no illusion that most are far from legal, nor are they safe, so let’s take a closer look at some of the concrete facts.

Psychoactive Substances

What are New Psychoactive Substances?

Legal highs, or New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) as they’re also known, usually contain one or more chemical substances that produce similar effects to illegal drugs. These new substances are not yet controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and there is limited research about their potency, adverse effects, and the effects of taking them with other substances or alcohol.

However research is underway and many substances found in ‘legal highs’ have been made illegal. They cannot be sold for human consumption, so are often sold as plant food, incense, or bath salts to get round the law.

What legal highs can do to you

The main effects of almost all ‘psychoactive’ drugs, including ‘legal highs’, can be described using three main categories. Stimulants, such as the now banned legal chemical highs like mephedrone and naphyrone can make users feel euphoric, chatty and energised.

Sedatives or ‘downers,’ including banned legal herbal highs like synthetic cannabinoids, can produce feelings of euphoria, relaxation or sleepiness. While psychedelics or legal hallucinogens, like the banned NBOMe drugs, can create altered perceptions and feelings of euphoria, warmth, and detachment from the world around.

Are legal highs safe?

Just because a substance is nicknamed ‘legal’ it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily legal or indeed safe. The alarming fact about so-called ‘legal highs’ is that there is no way of knowing exactly what is in them or what effect they might have – particularly when combined with other substances. Legal highs have been directly attributed to cases of poisoning, emergency hospital admissions (including mental health services) and death in extreme cases. They could also become a gateway drug to illegal drug use, which may lead to addiction. If you have become addicted to drug, talk to us today about your options, including detox and drug rehab

Deaths due to legal highs

Researchers who compiled post-mortem test results for the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths have found that the number of UK deaths linked to legal highs has risen from ten in 2009 to at least 68 in 2012, according to a BBC report earlier this year.

Another study by the Centre for Social Justice, quoted by Sky News, claimed that as many as 97 deaths were linked to legal highs 2012 and that hospital admissions had soared by 56% between 2009-12. The think tank predicts that, if current trends continue unabated, deaths attributed to legal highs could ultimately end up higher than heroin by 2016 at an astonishing 400 deaths per year.

Guernsey passed a new law to make it illegal to import any substance designed for recreational drug use. As such, several drugs were classified or reclassified, including ketamine, tramadol and LSD-like hallucinogen NBOMe, according to the BBC again.

Professor Les Iversen, Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, was quoted on GOV.UK as saying that: “People should be under no illusion, these substances marketed as so-called ‘legal highs’ can cause serious damage to your health and in some cases, even death.”

He added: “The UK is leading the way by using generic definitions to ban groups of similar compounds to ensure we keep pace with the fast moving marketplace for these drugs.”

Contact Port of Call for more information about Legal Highs and how addiction to drugs can be treated through our network of addiction experts. Learn how you can quit legal drugs without rehab. Talk to one of our experts and we can answer any questions you may have about addiction, rehab and even financing rehab.

About the author: Alex Molyneux

Alex is our admissions team leader. Over the last 5 years he has spoken with more than 10,000 people via our helpline and has organised over 1,000 detox and rehabilitation placements.

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