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Over the past 12 months the news has been filled with horror stories about people suffering from the serious effects of consuming so called ‘legal highs.’  The term ‘legal highs’ is misleading, as it implies these substances are safe when they are not and therefore these substances are often referred to as New Psychoactive Substances or New Drugs.

Emma Crawshaw, Service Delivery Manager of Crew an Edinburgh based drug service, says that people should not presume substances sold as ‘legal highs’ are either legal or safe.

She explains, “Legal or illegal highs, it’s difficult to tell what’s in them. This is also the case with branded products which rarely say what’s in them.  This means you could even be taking an illegal drug, or you could accidentally overdose as it can be very difficult to judge how much to take.”

Not sure what so called ‘legal highs’ are? Get the facts here

What are ‘legal highs’ or new psychoactive substances?

‘Legal highs’ are substances designed to produce similar effects to illegal drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy, but have been created so that their chemical structure is different enough to avoid being classified as illegal substances under the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

What is the legal status of new drugs or new psychoactive substances?

The UK Government introduced a temporary class drug order, meaning they can ban a drug for 12 months while a decision is made whether to permanently control them.   It is not illegal to possess a drug that is subject to a temporary class drug order for personal use, but the police could take it from you and destroy it.  It is however illegal to import, distribute and sell a drug under the temporary banning order, and anyone caught could be fined, sent to prison or both.

As it’s impossible for you to know what is in a drug before you take it and as any powder or pill could contain a controlled substance like cocaine, you also run the risk of being prosecuted for having or supplying illegal drugs.

More and more substances previously referred to as ‘legal highs’ have now been banned by the UK Government.  This includes Mephedrone and Methoxetamine, (Mexxy).  On 12 December 2013 the UK Government announced that NBOMe and Benzofuran compounds – (known as ‘N-Bomb’ and ‘Benzo Fury’) will become classified as class A and B drugs respectively.

What do they look like?

Generally they are white powders, herbal matter or pills. The packaging can be colourful and attractive with hundreds of different substance and brand names. These drugs cannot legally be sold for human consumption, so are often sold as research chemicals, bath salts or plant food to get round the law.

What do they contain?

The name ‘legal highs’ is misleading because it suggests that these substances are safe and legal. That is why they are now often known as new drugs or new psychoactive substances.  Some drugs sold as ‘legal highs’ have been found to contain drugs that are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.  Even drugs which look similar or are sold with the same or similar names have been found to have different strengths and effects.

Like any drug, there is no way of knowing for sure what chemicals are in them. Unlike foods and other items that are for sale in your local shops, there is nobody testing these substances for safety, or checking to see what is contained in the packages before they are sold.

You don’t know what you are getting

Many people have reported unpleasant effects to their physical and mental health as a result of taking these drugs.  As you don’t know what chemical you are buying there is no way to know what taking the substance may do to your body.

Taking too much at one time and mixing drugs, including drugs and substances sold as ‘legal highs’ increases the risks to your health even more.  This includes mixing drugs with alcohol.

Reported effects from people taking these drugs have included: nose bleeds, sickness and diahorrea, black outs, short-term memory loss, severe mood swings, anxiety, panic, confusion and paranoia. They can also put a strain on your heart and nervous system.  There are reports of people ending up in hospital, or dying after reportedly consuming these drugs.

Long term issues

Like any drug use, use of new psychoactive substances can quickly spiral out of control. The long term effects can be serious, similar to other drugs and are not just physical.  Your life can be affected in all sorts of negative ways – everything from losing your job to hurting friends and family or even worse. It’s just not worth the risk.

For more information on ‘legal highs,’ or new psychoactive substances as they are also known and other drugs contact the Know the Score helpline today for free confidential advice.

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