New psychoactive substances (NPS), often known as ‘legal highs’ ‘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 round the law. In some cases, NPS are just as dangerous as controlled drugs.
Legal Highs is an informal term for new psychoactive substances, synthetic drugs that were discovered through 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 is banned, 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).
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
Often packaged in shiny, colorful bags to look like packets of sweets, there are a large number of health risks associated with 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, the 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 actually 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 be detected through 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 its action and reaction to be predictable when taken. For example, the active element in Salvia Divinorum is Salviinorin-A whose effects does not really last for long when taken. But talking about legal highs, we don’t have a single legal high, they comprises of different names, chemical composition, formation culture which makes them reacts in the body in diverse ways. Legal high are known to be mirror of those addictive drugs which are differently engineered to produce a slightly different drugs, effects and structure.
Many of these substances behave in the same way as synthetic drugs and can lead to dependency over a period of 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.