Drug misuse – Legal highs


Drug misuse – Legal highs

Find out about the health risks of legal highs and when to seek medical help.


Legal highs are substances used like illegal drugs such as cocaine orcannabis, but not covered by current misuse of drugs laws. This means they are legal to possess or to use.

They are also called club drugs or new psychoactive substances (NPS).

Although these drugs are marketed as legal substances, this doesn’t mean that they are safe or approved for people to use. It just means that they’ve not been declared illegal to use and possess. They are still normally considered illegal to sell under medicines legislation.

Some drugs marketed as legal highs actually contain ingredients that are illegal to possess.

The risks of legal highs

Legal highs can carry serious health risks. The chemicals they contain have in most cases never been used in drugs for human consumption before. This means they haven't been tested to show that they are safe. Users can never be certain what they are taking and what the effects might be.

Other risks:

You increase the risk to yourself if you combine alcohol with any legal or illegal substance that causes a high.

Effects of legal highs can include reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, coma, seizures and, in a few cases, death.

Because the chemical ingredients in a branded product can be changed without you knowing, the risks are unpredictable.

Even drugs that look similar or have similar names may be varying strengths and have different effects.

When to get medical help

Most problems with short-term use of legal highs will settle after you stop taking them. However, the negative effects of some legal highs can take a few days to wear off completely, just like the comedown from stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines.

If you think you are having a serious negative reaction soon after taking a legal high or you experience problems that do not settle with a little time out, fluids and fresh air, get medical help straight away by going to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital.

If you are worried about continuing health problems after you've stopped taking the drugs, visit your GP.


Legal highs and the law

Many drugs that were previously sold as legal highs are now controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, including mephedrone (meow meow/mcat), naphyrone, BZP, GBL and synthetic cannabinoids (such as those found in Spice products). This means that they are illegal to possess or to supply to others.

To find out more about the latest news on legal highs, go to the FRANK website.

Legal highs