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Legal highs are drugs made from assorted chemicals, extracts or herbs which mimic the effects of some illegal drugs such as LSD, cocaine, MDMA and cannabis. Legal highs have dramatically increased in popularity over the last few years with many of these drugs being bought over the internet or in head shops.
Legal highs fall into the same drug categories as the illegal drugs they are designed to copy: stimulants (uppers), depressants (downers), analgesics (pain relieving) dissociatives (like ketamine) and hallucinogens (trips). Unlike a lot of illegal drugs that have been around a long time, it is difficult to know the long term effects of legal highs as there is not enough evidence on their risks.
You can find out more about legal highs by looking at the packet. The packet will tell you what chemicals are inside. The combinations of letters and numbers might look complicated but once you know what you are looking for you should be able to tell if the packet has MPA, ethylphenidate, synthetic cannabinoids or etizolam inside.
There are lots of different brands which may have different packets and names but will have the same chemical inside. All these brands may not contain the same amount a drug and different brands might have different mixes. Some might have things like caffeine added to increase the effects or to copy the well know effects of illegal drugs. Some legal highs might have fillers like wood pulp (cellulose) added which help powders thicken and combine together. These fillers mean the powders are not suitable for injecting and we would recommend avoiding using any brands which have microcrystalline cellulose on the back of the packet, if you do choose to inject legal highs.
You can also look at the back of the packet to help you reduce the risk of taking too much in one go. For example, if the powder inside a packet is 100 % ethlyphenidate then a dose from this packet should be half a dose from a packet which contains 50%. Generally legal highs are much purer than illegal drugs and so the dose should be much smaller.
The appearance will vary depending on the drug but most legal highs are chemicals produced in a lab and will come as a powder, pill or herbal form. The fact that the drugs are legal to buy might suggest they are safer or weaker than illegal drugs but that is not the case. They will generally be purer than illegall drugs and have similar risks. The harms from prolonged usage of most legal highs are largely unknown which increases the risk of taking them.
If you choose to use legal highs:
-Dose carefully, start low go slow!
-Control doses by measuring amounts. Use accurate scales; don’t judge by eye!
-Try a test dose (a small dab with your pinky) and wait at least 2 hours before re-dosing to ensure there are no bad effects
-There have been reports of some packets containing illegal substances. Be cautious of what you are buying and treat every packet as if it is a brand new substance
-Avoid mixing with other drugs as this can increase the chances of negative effects as well as putting strain on your heart or increasing your chances of overdose
Legal Highs are covered by The Psychoactive Substances Act. It was introduced in the UK on the 26th May 2016 and it makes it an offence to manufacture, export/import (i.e. buying from a non-UK website), supply or offer to supply any psychoactive substance, if likely to be used for its psychoactive effects. Despite being psychoactive, alcohol, nicotine, tobacco and caffeine are exempt from the act.
Under the new regulations, possession with intent to supply is an offence. Possession is not an offence, except in a ‘custodial institution’ (e.g. prison, young offenders centre).
Penalties range from civil sanctions to a 7 year prison sentence but some offences will be considered to be aggravated, including selling to under 18s or around schools and children’s homes etc.
The Human Medicines Regulations (2012) and the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) including Temporary Class Drug Orders (TCDOs) will remain unchanged.
The police have increased powers to stop and search individuals and premises, and NPS may be treated like a controlled drug until proven otherwise.