Legal highs

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What are legal highs?

Legal highs is a term used to describe a range of substances that are said to have similar effects to those of illegal drugs.

They are often marketed as a legal alternative to drugs like cannabis, cocaine, speed and ecstasy.

Why would people use legal highs?

Some people feel more comfortable buying legal highs rather than other drugs because they don’t want to break the law.

Legal highs have become more widely available in recent years. Buying a substance legally may give people the mistaken impression that they are safe to use.

What are the risks of legal highs?

The widespread use of legal highs is a recent trend. The market moves quickly, meaning that it is hard to know the risks of each substance. Research shows that ingredients listed on legal highs packaging are often misleading.

Anyone taking a legal high cannot be sure exactly what they are taking, what the effects will be or what type of experience they will have.

Legal highs can give similar effects to illegal drugs. If the effects are similar, then there is serious chance that users will face the same risk.

There are particular risks with specific legal highs:

  • Any ‘high’ designed to give the body an energy rush puts extra pressure on the heart. These stimulant ‘highs’ may also leave people feeling drained as what goes up must come down.
  • Herbal smoking mixtures can cause damage to the throat or lungs, especially if used with tobacco.
  • Drugs that slow down the way the body works can make people feel sleepy. Breathing is often slower and people can pass out as a result.
  • Hallucinogens can have frightening effects. Users may lose touch with reality meaning accidents are more likely to happen.

Any substance that changes the way you think or feel can affect your decision- making. A person is more likely to put themselves at risk if they are not thinking straight.

The law

Although you might think a substance is legal, the law moves quickly to clamp down on substances that might pose a risk to users – mephedrone (‘MCAT’, ‘meow’) and other synthetic cathinones such as methylone (‘M1) and MDVP are now illegal. Along with cannabis – like smoking mixtures (such as ‘Spice’) these are now Class B drugs. As with cannabis, the maximum penalties are up to 5 years in prison for possession and up to 14 years for supply. Sentences also come with an unlimited fine.

BZP and GBL had also been legal but are now Class C drugs. The maximum penalties are up to two years in prison for possession and up to 14 years for supply. Both substances have been linked to deaths.

If you are caught either in possession of, or supplying, a legal high you could still be arrested if police suspect it contains an illegal substance.

There is no reason to assume legal highs are safe to use.

The safest thing to do is to not take legal highs at all, but if you do take them, here are some ways to reduce the risks:

  1. Avoid mixing legal highs with other drugs, especially alcohol. Using substances together increases the risk of losing control, having a bad time or putting your health at risk.
  2. Make sure you are with friends you trust to look after you in case of problems.
  3. If you are going to use, only take a small amount. This should reduce the risk of you having a bad reaction and ruining your night out.
  4. Try to avoid using legal highs in an unsafe environment as  it can be hard for you to stay in control.
  5. If you are worried that you are having a bad reaction to a legal high, seek emergency help. Don’t delay. Get to A&E or call an ambulance.