The link between new psychoactive substances, or legal highs as they are also known, and the deaths of a number of young people in the UK has prompted calls for the Government to take action. The difficulty facing lawmakers, however, was that as soon as one substance was banned, manufacturers of these substances would simply create another. Banned ingredients would be replaced with something equally, if not more, dangerous, and more and more people suffered severe consequences as a result.
The Government responded by proposing the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which would make it a criminal act to produce, supply, import or export any psychoactive substance with the exception of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, tobacco and controlled drugs for medicinal purposes. The law was due to come into force on April 6th (2016), but concerns over how the law would be enforced have resulted in it being pushed back. It is expected to become law in May 2016.
An official report into legal highs has just been released, which shows that men in their twenties are most likely to die from using psychoactive substances. In a two-year period from 2011 to 2013, deaths linked to legal highs have more than tripled from seven to twenty-three.
When it comes to illegal drugs, the average age for deaths is thirty-eight, as compared to just twenty-eight for deaths linked to legal highs. Between 2004 and 2013, nine teenagers died as a result of taking legal highs, with the youngest person to die aged just eighteen.
Safe to Take
One of the biggest issues with so-called legal highs is that youngsters are still of the opinion that these are safe to take because they can be purchased legally. These substances have, up until now, been readily available in head shops and online. They are sold as plant food, incense, and bath salts, and are marked as not fit for human consumption. However, that does not stop young people swallowing, snorting or smoking these substances, with some even injecting them.
Further research had shown that the majority of those who perished after taking legal highs also had another drug or alcohol in their system when they died. However, forensic testing has shown that many legal highs contain a mixture of substances, which often includes illegal drugs. Experts believe this could explain at least some of the cases where deaths from legal highs involved other drugs.
Dangers of Legal Highs
Legal highs became popular around 2008, and use of the substances has been growing steadily. The substances are made to mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, and ecstasy. Because they were readily available and relatively inexpensive, teenagers and young addicts were attracted to them. Nevertheless, they can be highly addictive and dangerous.
The biggest problem is that it is impossible to tell what is in a legal high from looking at it. These substances are sold as pills, capsules, powders, liquids or smoking mixtures, but every batch can be different from the next. If an ingredient is banned, it is replaced but still sold as the same substance. That means that those who take a particular legal high without a reaction have no guarantee that they will not react if they take it again.
Those who take legal highs are putting themselves in danger of serious health issues. Short-term side effects include psychosis, paranoia, agitation, delusions, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, seizures, raised temperature, and chest pain.
Legal highs can be fatal, especially if taken with alcohol or other drugs. Addiction to legal highs can result in other negative consequences including the loss of family, friends, jobs, money, and homes.