What are legal highs?

The phrase legal highs gets bandied about all over the place. But what actually are they? And what are the different types?

Girl taking pills

Don't knock them back like sweeties

Legal highs are similar to legal drugs. Some make you hallucinate, others get you high, and others are aphrodisiacs. They range from plants, to synthetic drugs, to stuff you can buy from a pharmacy – but that doesn’t mean they’re safe.

In May 2016, the Psychoactive Substances Act came into force. The act is a blanket ban on legal highs and criminalises the production, sale, supply and distribution of legal highs. This doesn’t replace the Misuse of Drugs Act, but it does make it an offence to produce or supply legal highs (not including nicotine, alcohol and caffeine). Offenders who break the law could face up to seven years in prison under the new Psychoactive Substances Act. It isn’t an offence to possess them.

What are herbal or natural highs?

Don’t be fooled by the packaging of certain legal highs claiming to be ‘herbal’ alternatives to illegal drugs. Herbal highs are substances that occur in nature (like salvia) rather than chemical concoctions with a small herbal element.

So plants and herbs like salvia can be described as herbal highs because they grow naturally and aren’t usually messed about with. They are often eaten, smoked, or made into some disgusting-tasting tea.

The word herbal may lead you to assume the high is relatively mild, but nature can actually really pack a punch into its products – so be warned. Herbal highs can cause trips, rushes, and even full-blown hallucinations.

The truth? We’re not absolutely sure. These are the legal highs that make the headlines, and, if media reports are to be believed, will cause you a horrible and untimely death. Their ability to kill you instantly may be a tad distorted, but ingesting a synthetic legal high isn’t the safest recreational pastime.

These are strong chemicals that have been crafted by clever science-types to be similar in chemical-makeup to illegal drugs. Mephedrone (meow meow), until it was banned, would be classed as a synthetic legal high.

The problem is the compounds of these chemicals are continually changing to dodge government legislation. This means you’re never really sure what you’re taking, or if it’s been tested for human consumption. Synthetic legal highs are likely to be branded differently and disguised as something other than a legal high, such as plant food or bath salts.

What are high-street highs?

Inventive high-hunters have discovered that massively overdosing on regular shop-bought products can provide an effective buzz.

Drinking too much cough syrup or OD-ing on herbal Viagra pills have both been used as a means of getting off your face.

Ignoring dosage information on medicine packets can be dangerous and potentially fatal. So, just because you can score it in Boots, don’t assume it’s safe if you disregard the recommended dosage.

Next Steps

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legal highs


Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo of girl with pills by volunteer photographer Rebecca Hancock