General Article ‘Legal highs’ may be more dangerous than traditional drugs of abuse

Topic Selected: Drugs Book Volume: 373



Colin Davidson, University of Central Lancashire

Novel psychoactive substances (NPS), or “legal highs”, have had various definitions but can simply be thought of as new drugs of abuse. Some may be entirely new, some may be designed to mimic existing drugs, some are based on psychoactive plants and some are medicines.

In the UK, most were legal up until the 2016 Psychoactive Drugs Act, which has effectively banned all drugs which have a psychoactive effect, except alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and drugs used for medicinal purposes. Despite this, they remain widely, albeit illegally, available.

Drug users are a heterogeneous group: many have continued to use traditional drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and heroin, but others have embraced legal highs. It was estimated in 2014 that nearly half of all drug users in the UK have taken an NPS.

The reasons for their popularity include the misconception that because they were once legal they are safe, the ease of obtaining the...

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