New psychoactive substances (NPS), are often ‘legal high’ ‘illegal legals’ or ‘illegal highs’, are substances designed to produce the same, or similar effects, to drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, and ecstasy, but are structurally different enough to avoid being controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. In the past, they were often sold in the shops as research chemicals and advertised as ‘not for human consumption to get around the law. In some cases, NPS is just as dangerous as controlled drugs.
Legal High is an informal term for new psychoactive substances, synthetic drugs that came from experimentation upon the chemical structure of existing drugs – legal or illegal. They are created in concealed locations and homemade labs and sold online or in ‘head shops. The number of legal highs available is constantly changing and growing which makes it difficult for law enforcement to control them. Once one becomes illegal, the chemical structure can be tweaked so it is technically a different molecule, and therefore a new ‘legal’ drug/high.
The three major categories of these drugs are:
- Synthetic cannabinoids
- Synthetic stimulants
- Synthetic hallucinogens (mimicking LSD and Ecstasy)
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The Effects of Legal Highs
Depending upon the drug taken, a user may experience feelings of exhilaration, prolonged periods of wakefulness, decreased appetite, extreme relaxation, amnesia, and feelings of detachment. Unwanted effects might include hallucinations, panic attacks, aggressive behavior, or feelings of paranoia. In addition, there may be physical effects like nausea, significant changes in blood pressure, seizures, slurred speech, and blackouts. These drugs can even cause coma and death.
Legal Highs Health Risks
They often come in shiny, colorful bags to look like packets of sweets, there are a large number of health risks for taking Legal Highs. Uncertainties about the sources, levels, and types of chemicals and possible contaminants used to manufacture many Legal Highs make it extremely difficult to determine toxicity and associated medical consequences. Additionally, unpredictable inconsistencies may create a false sense of safety for users. A substance may not have severe consequences for an individual the first time they use it, creating the sense that that particular “brand” or “type” is “safe.” But the “same” substance may not be the same as one taken previously, and the individual remains vulnerable to all of the health and safety risks such as decreased inhibitions and increased risk-taking behavior. Additionally, many Legal Highs can’t show from urinalysis or other screening methods, making it difficult to measure intoxication levels.
Legal Highs can produce some dangerous side effects:
- Physical and psychological addiction
- Mood changes
- Sleep disturbances
- Psychotic behavior
- Hyperthermia (overheating)
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Fatal respiratory problems
- Coma and even death
Comparison of Legal Highs with Natural hallucinogen
Natural hallucinogen has a fixed and standardized content structure and composition, this makes their action and reaction to be predictable when taken. For example, the active element in Salvia Divinorum is Salviinorin-A whose effects do not last for long when taken. But talking about legal highs, we don’t have a single legal high. They comprise different names, chemical compositions, and formation cultures. This makes them react in the body in diverse ways. Legal highs mirror those addictive drugs. They produce slightly different drugs, effects, and structures.
Many of these substances behave in the same way as synthetic drugs and can lead to dependency over some time. For example, a drug such as mephedrone is similar to ecstasy in that it is highly addictive and leads to psychological changes in the user. People who use mephedrone find it very difficult to stop. These substances are more powerful than many people realize and can be as equally as addictive as their illegal cousins.
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