New drug-like substances that have been created and discovered are sometimes known as ‘legal highs.'
They are more accurately called novel psychoactive substances, which is sometimes shortened to NPS.
People who buy and sell 'legal highs' are breaking the law. The results of taking them are very variable, and may, or may not, include a high.
Crucial: If a friend becomes ill after taking a substance, always tell the medical staff what they have taken. Provide a sample if you are able. Their life could depend on it.
What is a novel psychoactive substance?
Novel psychoactive substances (NPS) are new substances which have an effect on the brain. These effects may be similar to drugs like cannabis, cocaine, and amphetamine, or entirely new.
An NPS is not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, but it is still illegal to sell, supply or advertise them as highs, or for human consumption. To get round this, they may be sold as other things, like research chemicals, plant food, or bath crystals, and labelled ‘not for human consumption’.
Novel psychoactive substances are not subject to the same safety checks as other products. There have been deaths and emergency admissions to hospital. Some are stronger and more dangerous than naturally occurring drugs.
In 2016, the UK Government passed the Psychoactive Substances Act. This makes it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, import or export any substance intended for human consumption intended to produce a psychoactive effect.
Instant expert: The Psychoactive Substances Act makes it an offence to produce, supply, or offer to supply psychoactive substances, with a maximum sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment.
Risks of taking "Legal Highs"
There are lots of Novel Psychoactive Substances. There are brand names and chemical names, like Dimethocaine, Benzo Fury, 5IAI, MDAT, Silver Bullet, Spice, NRG1, Synthetic Cannabinoids and Ivory Wave.
These drugs are very new. The risks are not fully understood yet. But just as for any drug, there are three kinds of immediate risk:
- Immediate health risks (poisoning, sudden death, overdose, overheating, respiratory failure)
- Mental health risks (from how taking the drug makes you feel, or how you feel after taking it)
- Safety risks like dangerous behaviour, accidents, fights, risky sex and drowning
There may also be long-term effects. These are more likely if you take the psychoactive substance regularly or in large quantities. This can include changes to your mental health and function. This can include changes to your emotions, understanding and memory, as well as dependence, drug-seeking behaviour and addiction.
Crucial: Addiction is not a problem for all people who take drugs, but everyone is potentially vulnerable, and your vulnerability can change over time. If you notice signs of addiction (taking the drug regularly, for example every weekend, making changes to your life to make sure you can get the drug, missing life, work or social activities because of the drug) the safest thing to do is to stop using the substance altogether.
Some substances have other effects when they mix with other drugs, in your body, including alcohol, energy drinks, prescription drugs and vaping. This animation shows how one of these dangerous interactions happens: