What is a legal high?

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘legal high’ floating about the place. But did you know that a lot of ‘legal highs’ aren’t actually legal? Bet that needs some clarification. When it comes to these types of drugs, there are a lot of unkowns. Since many people favour their better known counter-parts such as MDMA, there hasn’t been a need to know a lot about them. But that’s changing. Legal highs are becoming increasingly common, so we decided it was time to have a conversation about them.

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What is a legal high? 

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 basically means that it’s a crime to do anything with them except possess them. It doesn’t replace the Misuse of Drugs Act, but it does make it an offence to produce or supply legal highs (with the exception of nicotine, alcohol and caffeine). Offenders who break the law could face up to seven years in prison under the new Psychoactive Substances Act.  

Now that we’ve answered the foundational ‘What is a legal high?’ It’s time to get onto different types of highs. 

What are herbal or natural highs? 

Don’t be fooled by the packaging of certain legal highs claiming to be ‘herbal highs’ as an alternative to illegal drugs like cocaine. 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 RANK tea.

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

What are synthetic legal highs? 

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 pastime. We recommend taking up hiking instead, same adrenaline rush – slightly less chance of death.

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. So would synthetic cannabinoid. 

The problem is the smoking mixtures, and their chemical compounds, are continually changing to dodge government legislation. This means you’re never really sure what you’re taking, the possible side effects or if it’s even been tested for human consumption. For example, 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 drug users have discovered that massively overdosing on regular shop-bought products can provide an effective buzz. It’s basically like openly finding legal highs for sale.

Some people even use drinking too much cough syrup or OD-ing on herbal Viagra pills to get wasted. But it’s important to note that ignoring dosage information on medicine packets can be dangerous and potentially fatal. So, just because you can score it in Boots, don’t down the whole packet.

If you haven’t gotten your fill of legal highs yet, click here to bust some common legal high myths.

Next Steps

  • FRANK offers friendly, confidential advice on all things drugs-related. Call now on 0300 123 6600
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legal highs

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 07-Sep-2021