New Psychoactive Substances ('Legal Highs')

New Psychoactive Substances (NPSs), also known as 'legal highs', are substances with stimulant or mood-altering properties. Their sale or use may not be currently illegal, yet the affects of such substances could be detrimental to your health

Why is there concern about ‘legal’ highs?

There has been very little or no useful research into the short, medium and long term effects of New Psychoactive Substances (NPSs) or 'legal' highs on people.

If a person takes an NPS, it may mean that they are acting as a 'human guinea pig' for an untested and unregulated product. Whilst this means specific advice can’t always be provided, there are certain key facts common to all ‘legal' highs:

  • Just because a drug may be legal to possess, it does not mean it’s safe.
  • It is becoming increasingly clear that ‘legal highs’ are far from harmless. They can have similar health risks to drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and speed.
  • Risks of ‘legal highs’ can include reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, coma, seizures, and death.
  • These risks are increased if used with alcohol or other drugs.
  • It is likely that drugs sold as a ‘legal high’ may actually contain one or more substances that are actually illegal to posses. You may think it is a 'legal' high that you can’t get in trouble for having. In fact, it could be something completely different, a class B drug.

Some background info

NPSs are substances which produce the same or similar effects, to drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy. They are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.  They are, however, considered illegal under current medicines legislation to sell, supply or advertise for “human consumption”. To get round this sellers refer to them as research chemicals, plant food, bath crystals or pond cleaner, for example. 

In many cases, NPSs have been designed to mimic class A drugs. They are structurally different enough to avoid being classified as illegal substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act. An example of this is Mephedrone (often referred to as MCAT, Meow Meow or MC).

The substance was created in a lab to mimic the effects of cocaine or ecstasy. It had a slightly different chemical structure to both of these drugs so that it would not fall under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Subsequently the government passed legislation so that Mephedrone became a controlled substance meaning it is now illegal to possess, give away or sell.

There are a large number of NPSs

Some are known by their brand / product name, for example 'Benzo Fury', 'Ivory Wave', 'Eric 3', 'Diablo'. It is not always clear what is in these products and their contents can change regularly:

  • Some are known by their chemical name, for example, 'Dimethocaine','5IAI', 'MDAT'.
  • Some may be known by a slang name. For example in some areas 'Bubble' is a generic name for any synthetic powder that has stimulant (amphetamine-like) effects.
  • More recent 'legal’ highs include methoxetamine (also called MXE, MKET or roflcoptr) and ethylphenidate.

NPSs and the law (if you are still in school)

Under current guidance, teachers can confiscate, and dispose of, any ‘legal’ highs that they find on school property, in line with the school’s policy. School staff also have the power to search any students suspected of carrying banned drugs.  This power allows school staff to search for substances they reasonably believe are illegal but which may, after testing, be found to be legal

New temporary bans for 'legal’ highs

The Government has now introduced new powers. This means they can place a temporary ban on any potentially harmful substance, while they await a recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). They are an independent group of experts, deciding whether legal highs should be permanently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.  

When it is used, the temporary ban will come into immediate effect, but it will have to be agreed by Parliament within 40 days. The drug will not be Class A, B, or C, but called a temporary class drug. It would not be illegal to posses a temporary class drug for personal use, but the police could confiscate it and destroy it.  It will be illegal to import, distribute and sell the drug, and anyone caught could be fined, sent to jail or both.

Information for Parents

Bournemouth DAAT has produced a guidance booklet for parents who may be concerned about NPSs and club drugs. The guidance provides tips for talking to your child about legal highs and examples of what they look like.

Tips for staying safe

  • You are at greater risk of physical or sexual assault when under the influence of drugs.  
  • You may appear threatening to others and this will affect their behaviour towards you.
  • Always carry condoms to reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancy and STIs.
  • Mixing more than 1 substance (including alcohol) can be unpredictable and dangerous.
  • If you're dancing and under the influence, take regular breaks to chill out and sip non-alcoholic drinks (about a pint per hour).
  • Stay with your friends and look out for each other.
  • Know what to do in an emergency. Put the person in the ‘recovery position’, call 999 and tell the paramedics what drugs have been taken.
  • Do not use while you responsible for children.
  • Do not drive or operate machinery whilst intoxicated.
  • Avoid sharing snorting and injecting equipment (e.g. bank notes, straws, pins, spoons, filters). This reduces the risk of contracting a blood borne virus (Hep B, C or HIV).
  • Eat healthy and get plenty of rest.
  • Taking substances may increase existing physical or mental health problems.
  • Do your research, check out the FRANK website 
  • Get some help if things are getting out of control for you

For non judgemental Information & Advice contact: 

The Trinity Project
6 Trinity
161 Old Christchurch Road

Drop-in Monday to Friday 9:00am – 4:00pm

Or phone: 01202 558855