New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), or 'legal highs' as they are commonly known, are chemicals that can have mood altering properties but are not always controlled by drug laws.
The name ‘legal highs’ can be misleading, just because they can be bought in a shop does not mean they are safe and they may contain substances that are already controlled.
They are designed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as cannabis, LSD and cocaine; the appearance will vary depending on the drug but most NPS are chemicals produced in a lab and come in powder, pill or herbal form.
What NPS can do to you
The effect will depend on the specific substance used and what dose is taken – some NPS are active in very small amounts! If it is a stimulant you may feel more alert, confident and awake. If it is a cannabinoid you may feel relaxed and detached from reality. If it's a psychedelic it may alter your perceptions and can make you see or hear things that aren’t there.
What the side effects are
Stimulant type NPS can make you feel restless and paranoid and can even cause psychosis. Cannabinoid NPS can make you feel anxious and depressed. Psychedelic type NPS can make you feel panicky if you have a ‘bad trip’ and can impact your judgement which can put you at risk.
Injecting NPS is extremely dangerous and can result in soft skin infection. Sharing equipment can also expose you to viruses such as Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and HIV.
What NPS can be cut with
NPS can be cut with many different substances such as benzocaine, lidocaine, wood pulp and caffeine.
Caffeine is a stimulant drug which can make you feel 'perked up', more energetic, and increases your heart rate and breathing. People using it can experience alertness, improved concentration and mood although higher doses can cause headaches, restlessness, sleep problems and cravings.
Microcrystalline cellulose is added to increase the amount of a substance (known as a bulking agent). This does not dissolve in water and will cause serious problems if injected.
Benzocaine and lidocaine
These are analgesics used in dentistry meaning they may numb the mouth or nose depending on how the substance is taken. These are used to mimic the analgesic properties of cocaine and can mask any nasty irritation or pain when using NPS which can lead to nasal damage.
Many packets of NPS contain more than one psychoactive chemical which can increase your chance of a negative reaction. Even packets that look the same can contain different psychoactive chemicals.