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Immediate Access for help and advice

What Are Legal Highs?

What was once known as “legal highs” are psychoactive drugs that are composed of various chemical ingredients. They typically produce effects similar to those of illegal drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis. (1) They are sold in various forms, including powder, pills, capsules, liquids. smoking mixtures and perforated tabs.

Legal highs used to be available in head shops or online, making them easily accessible. As they cannot legally be labelled as safe for human consumption, they were often sold as plant food, bath salts or incense, but still often abused.

Many of the chemicals common in legal highs are not tested for safety, meaning users cannot be sure of what the exact effects of ingesting them will be. This risk is amplified when legal highs are taken with other psychoactive substances or alcohol.

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Types of Legal Highs

Some legal highs, such as methadone and Benzo fury, fall under the class of drugs known as stimulants. These drugs mimic the effects of methamphetamine and amphetamine. They are highly addictive because of their ability to affect both the body’s basic functions and the central nervous system.

Legal highs that fall under the classification of hallucinogenic drugs cause visual, auditory and tactile hallucinations. Some examples include Bromo-Dragonfly and methoxetamine. Use of hallucinogenic legal highs can lead to erratic and irrational behaviour. Some users may also become violent.

There are some opiate-like legal highs. However, these are not heavily used in the UK. They produce the same effects as natural opiates such as codeine and morphine.

Tranquilising drugs are another category of legal highs. They have a sedative effect on the central nervous system and are rarely used in the UK. Brotizolam and clotiazepam are examples of tranquilising legal highs that are sometimes used in the UK. The Misuse of Drugs Act makes both of them controlled substances.

Bath salts

Bath salts are strong central nervous system stimulants. They produce a high similar to that of methamphetamine, and they are often sold as cheap alternatives for other stimulants such as cocaine. Bath salts have a high potential for addiction as well as overdose.

Benzo fury

Benzo fury is manufactured using benzofuran compounds, which may act as stimulants. The drug and its compounds are comparatively new, and researchers still have limited information about it. It is commonly used as substitute for speed and ecstasy.

Benzo fury can be sold in pill, powder and gel capsule form. It results in feelings of excitement, euphoria, empathy and increased energy.


Damiana is a shrub found throughout the Southern US as well as many parts of South America. Damiana can be found in numerous over-the-counter products, particularly those that are marketed as being able to induce a legal herbal high.

Damiana can be highly addictive when large dosages are taken. An overdose, particularly when it is used with other psychoactive substances, (5) can be fatal.

Devil’s weed

Also known as Jimson weed, devil’s weed causes severe hallucinations. It is more of a deliriant than a hallucinogen, meaning that it induces an all-encompassing delirium through blocking neurotransmitters in the brain. Taken in excessive amounts, devil’s weed can be fatal.

Addiction to devil’s weed develops based on individual factors. While some may be able to abruptly stop using it after a few times, others find that they develop a chemical dependency after using the drug once or twice. (6)

4 Aco DMT

A psychedelic drug belonging to the tryptamine class of drugs, 4 Aco DMT comes in powder and crystalline form. Taking 4 Aco DMT affects serotonin receptors in the brain, resulting in altered vision and emotions.

With the introduction of the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, 4 Aco DMT is a Class A illegal drug in the UK, meaning that the legal penalties of being found in possession of it are comparable to those of being found in possession of heroin or cocaine.

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The drug AH-7921 is a synthetic cannabinoid that has the same effects as heroin. It was originally developed by a pharmaceutical company in the 1970s as a substitute to morphine. It is not widely used in the UK. However, at least one death has been reported in relation to its consumption.

Cough syrup

Cough syrups such as codeine, which have a mild opioid as their main ingredient, can be highly prone to abuse because of their sedating effects.

Some cough syrups also contain dextromethorphan, which is a cough suppressant that has been increasingly used to replace codeine in over-the-counter flu and cold medicines. This intoxicating drug is also prone to abuse.

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While Etizolam is approved in a few countries, including Japan and India, it is illegal in the UK. It is a highly addictive tranquilliser that can be fatal when mixed with other depressants such as alcohol.

Etizolam is commonly used for inducing calm and relaxation. Taken in high dosages, however, it can result in a lack of coordination, slurred speech and a significant decrease in cognitive function.

Addiction to Etizolam forms relatively quickly, especially when large dosages are taken frequently. Medical detoxification is usually required when an Etizolam addiction sufferer is trying to recover from their addiction because of the intensity and unpredictability of withdrawal symptoms.


Kava comes from a root that is found in the South Pacific region. When ingested, kava plants interact with the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that responds to fear and anxiety.

The effects kava has on a person largely depend on the type of kava plant taken, as well as factors such as their body mass index and the rate at which their body metabolises the plant.

Addiction to kava takes a longer time to develop than addiction to most legal highs. However, the impact on health can be just as severe. Kava abuse can result in liver problems.


Methoxetamine is a hallucinogenic drug that is similar to the animal tranquilliser of the same name. It mimics the effects of PCP when it is used recreationally. It can cause feelings of excitement and relaxation by blocking certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

The effects of methoxetamine can last up to 12 hours. Even in small doses, it has a high potential for overdose because its potency.

Addiction to methoxetamine develops quickly, and users can start to experience withdrawal symptoms after as few as five uses.

Mexican calea

Mexican calea is categorised as an astrerid because of its star-like flowers. It is used to induce lucid dreams due to its psychoactive properties.

The rate at which addiction to Mexican calea develops is heavily reliant on how a person takes it. Smoking the leaves produces more intense effects than drinking it as tea.

Mexican calea is not known to be fatal. However, its effect on neurotransmitters makes it difficult for an individual to stop using it after an addiction has formed. Additionally, the withdrawal symptoms are often intense.


Also known as smiles and N-BOMe, N-bomb is a powerful synthetic hallucinogen that is commonly sold as an alternative to LSD. The effects of a small amount of N-bomb can last up to 12 hours.

Extremely small dosages of N-bomb produce hallucinations and euphoria that are similar to those produced by LSD. In higher amounts, it mimics methamphetamine in its effects. It is sold in liquid or powdered form as well as on soaked blotter paper.

N-bomb’s high toxicity makes it necessary for a filter mask, glasses and gloves to be used while handling large amounts of the substance. Taking high dosages can be fatal. (2)


Salvia, a plant of the mint family, is commonly grown in southern Mexico as well as Central and South America. Some of its common street names include Leaves of Mary, Maria Pastora and Sage of the Seers.

Salvia is a dissociative hallucinogenic drug. Ingesting salvia results in hallucinations, mood disturbance and altered visual perception.


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When it was first introduced, spice was a highly specific synthetic cannabinoid. Through popular usage, spice has become a blanket term that is used to refer to all synthetic cannabinoids. The original spice was a relatively harmless synthetic cannabinoid that had effects similar to natural cannabis.

The spice commonly sold now is highly potent and addictive. An overdose of spice can be potentially fatal.

Detoxification is usually medically assisted because of the withdrawal symptoms, which are often severely uncomfortable.

Dangers of Legal Highs

Legal highs are highly dangerous because it’s impossible to know for certain what ingredients they contain. Manufacturers constantly change the ingredients, making it difficult for doctors to treat users with serious side effects as the doctors are unaware of what substances and what amounts were taken.

Additionally, it is difficult to predict how legal highs will interact with other substances such as alcohol. The risks of taking legal highs by themselves, and especially with other substances, include seizures, heart problems, mental health issues, brain damage and death.

Another danger that is associated with taking legal highs is how easy they may be to procure. The easy access to legal highs can encourage individuals to take large amounts of the drug, as getting more when they feel a craving will be a relatively easy task.

Legal highs can be particularly dangerous to teens. Because some of them can be easily and cheaply bought in shops as plant food and incense, teens may experiment with high dosages. This can lead to the development of addictions as well as fatal overdoses.

Legal Highs Addiction Explained

Because many users tend to believe that legal highs are not as dangerous as illegal drugs, they usually take high dosages under the impression that it’s safe to do so. Legal highs, however, are often composed of many substances in unknown quantities, making them highly dangerous.

The fact that individuals are unaware of the exact nature of the substance they are taking can lead to them ingesting excessive amounts and frequent dosages. This can result in the build-up of tolerance, which may cause users to take more of the drug with greater frequency so that the feelings of relaxation, euphoria and excitement retain their intensity.

Addiction to legal highs can be worsened by alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse. This can make cravings stronger as well as worsening withdrawal symptoms if users spend an extended period without taking a dose.

An individual addicted to legal highs may be addicted to several different substances at the same time. This is because legal highs often have trace or even high amounts of illegal substances, and these amounts can vary from one packet to the next.

How long an addiction to legal highs takes to form mostly depends on the particular substance. For some, such as methoxetamine, it may take only a few uses, while other substances require continued and frequent use before a full-fledged addiction takes root.

Causes and Risk Factors with Legal Highs Addiction

One of the biggest causes of addiction to legal highs is the fact that they can be easier to procure than more controlled substances such as Class A drugs, despite mimicking effects of those substances.

Legal highs can sometimes be bought online as well as in stores. Wide accessibility makes them prone to abuse as addicted individuals are able to easily buy another dose. The fact that they are cheaper than illegal drugs also makes them more accessible, increasing the likelihood of abuse and addiction.

The generally accepted belief that legal highs are safer than Class A drugs or other Class B drugs makes more people willing to try them, which can gradually lead to addiction.

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Another factor that increases the risk of being addicted to legal highs is that new forms are released frequently, making it difficult for users to know the exact amount they are taking as well as the intensity of effects they can expect. This can lead to them taking high dosages, increasing the risk of an addiction developing.

The stages of addiction to legal substances

Addiction to legal substances usually begins with experimental use. This is when individuals try the legal high for the first time as an experiment. Some individuals stop at this stage after satisfying their curiosity. The effects, low cost and easy accessibility of legal highs can prompt some users to keep taking more of them,
Experimental use can progress to recreational use. This is when an individual continues to use the drug to have fun. Dosages usually become larger and more regular during this stage.

Dependent drug use begins when a user is addicted to the drug. Substance dependence may be physical or psychological. It is characterised by a user being unable to control their use of the legal high.

Behavioural/process addictions

Behavioural or process addictions are characterised by a compulsion to continually engage in an activity, despite the negative consequences that activity may be causing the individual. They may find the behaviour rewarding psychologically, despite later feeling guilt and remorse.

Behavioural or process addiction sufferers may find it very difficult to stop engaging in the behaviour or process without treatment or an intervention.

Behavioural addictions manifest themselves in much the same way as substance dependence. Continued indulgence in a behaviour can result in tolerance, which can lead to a compulsion to engage more of the same behaviour so as to achieve the high with the same intensity.

Co-Occurring Disorders: Mental Health Issues and Legal High Addiction

Alcoholism is often a common co-occurring disorder with legal highs addiction. This is because a large number of users begin by using them as a recreational or party drug paired with alcohol. The resultant intoxication can cause them to unknowingly ingest high amounts of alcohol, leading to them forming the habit of taking legal highs with alcohol to achieve the desired feelings.

Individuals suffering from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are prone to developing addictions to legal highs. This is because they may find the euphoric feelings they initially experience after taking legal highs to be effective temporary coping mechanisms. Continued use of legal highs, however, especially to the point of addiction, often increases the intensity of mental health issues.

Top Risk Factors for Teen Legal Highs Addiction


Genetic factors can heavily contribute to the risk of teen legal highs addiction. Teens who come from families with a history of addictive traits may develop an addiction to legal highs and other substances quickly.

If a teen comes from a family where there is a history of alcoholism and they have developed substance dependence already, their addiction to legal highs may not only take a shorter time to form but can be difficult to recover from.


Teens in an environment in which legal highs are being abused face a high risk of abusing them as well. This is because these are usually environments in which these drugs can be easily accessed, which can encourage experimentation among teens.

Teens whose peers are using legal highs are also at a higher risk of abusing the drugs. Many peddlers sell legal highs as party drugs near nightclubs or where parties are being held, resulting in teens using them as well.

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How Legal High Abuse Can Impact Mood and Cognition

Legal highs such as spice can significantly decrease cognitive function. Users are often described as exhibiting zombie-like symptoms. Individuals attending school or university while using legal highs tend to exhibit poor performance. People who work and use legal highs may also experience a significant decrease in their performance.

Other health-related effects of using legal highs that can have an impact on cognition include changes in sleeping patterns and overall health.

Users of legal highs typically experience mood swings that include depression and anxiety. They may also start to feel highly paranoid. (5)

Living with and Managing Legal Highs Addiction

Living with an addiction to legal highs can be made difficult by their easy accessibility. One of the most noticeable signs that someone is suffering from a legal highs addiction is them falling into financial troubles due to having to pay for the substances they are addicted to.

Many of the effects of legal highs make it difficult for users to live up to their personal, professional and social obligations, which can make living with an addiction to legal highs difficult.

For individuals whose addiction to legal highs was caused by underlying psychological issues, living with their addiction can often be difficult because they may feel they need to drug to ease their anxiety, depression or other negative feelings.

Seeking help is often the best way to find healthy methods of coping with psychological issues, which can make it easier to overcome an addiction to legal highs.

Helping Someone Suffering from a Legal Highs Addiction

Individuals suffering from legal highs addiction may be unwilling to admit their substance abuse.

Those who wish to help them may find it useful to look out for the signs and symptoms of addiction. Not only can this help them to know for certain that a legal high addiction is the problem, it can help them to match the symptoms to a well-known substance, which can make eventual treatment easier.

Some of the signs of legal high addiction include unexplained financial troubles, lack of coordination, noticeable lack of alertness and failure to meet social, professional and personal obligations. Some popular legal highs, such as spice, have distinct effects that make it easier to identify if someone is using them.

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An intervention can be an effective way of helping a legal highs addiction sufferer to realise the impact of their addiction and consequently take action to recover. It is generally recommended to avoid coming off as confrontational during the intervention and to instead show concern while communicating to the user that their addiction can be overcome.

Helping someone with legal highs addiction usually also extends to the period after rehab. A support structure can greatly help them to apply the lessons they learned in rehab as well as to lessen the risk of relapse.

Common Misconceptions About Legal Highs Addiction

It is commonly believed that legal highs are a safer alternative to cocaine, heroin and other explicitly criminalised drugs. In some instances, legal highs can in fact be more dangerous due to the fact that medical professionals may be unaware of the exact contents of the substance, making it difficult for them to treat an overdose.

Another common misconception about legal highs addiction is that possessing them doesn’t carry the legal liability of carrying traditionally abused drugs. Because some substances that were formerly legal highs are now classified as Class B drugs in the UK, just like cannabis, being found in possession of them can result in a lengthy prison sentence.

Additionally, legal highs are not safe because they tend to be just as addictive as the drugs they are sold as alternatives to. Overdosing on legal highs can be fatal.

Getting Help for Legal High Addiction

Many rehab facilities offer legal highs addiction treatment. This is the safest and most recommended way to get help because of the expertise rehab staff have in helping individuals return to normal health and ways of living.

A significant reason why a rehab facility is an advisable way to get help is that many of them are well-equipped to handle withdrawal symptoms, which are often unpredictable. Rehab medical staff can determine the best method of detoxification as well as how they can adjust to continual changes in withdrawal symptoms.

Individuals suffering from addiction to legal highs may find it beneficial to confide in someone they trust so as to have a support structure before beginning treatment, which can help them to get a sense of encouragement as they enter rehab. Having a support structure also helps individuals suffering from legal highs addiction to have people who can help look for a suitable treatment facility as well as structure a routine to avoid relapse after treatment.

Types of Legal High Addiction Treatment

The most effective type of treatment for legal highs addiction is a residential addiction treatment programme. It typically involves a user undergoing a medically assisted detoxification if necessary, followed by an intensive programme involving group and individual therapy.

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Twelve-step addiction treatment models may also be used as an abstinence-based approach to help change unhealthy addictive behaviours.

Some individuals may opt for day care and outpatient treatment for legal high addiction, depending on the severity of their addiction. These options can be used to lower treatment intensity for individuals who have undergone an intensive inpatient programme or as a method of entry to addiction treatment and therapy.

The different types of legal highs addiction commonly involve detoxification, which is followed by therapy. The main difference between them tends to be the amount of time spent in treatment daily. A legal highs addiction sufferer can find the type of legal highs addiction treatment that suits them based on their unique needs.

Legal high addiction withdrawal and detox

There are two ways in which the legal high detox process can be done. The first, which is commonly known as cold turkey, involves a user being instantly and entirely deprived of access to the drug they are addicted to. Under this method, withdrawal symptoms are observable within a few hours and gradually increase to a peak within a few days.

The second method by which detox can be done is through a gradual withdrawal. This involves a user continuing to be administered the drug they are addicted to or prescription substitutes, with doses gradually decreased until the completion of withdrawal. Gradual withdrawal results in less intense symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms can be highly unpredictable during detox, which is why it is not recommended that individuals abruptly stop the usage of legal highs without medical supervision. Rehab treatment centres are typically equipped to handle erratic withdrawal symptoms.

Common medications used in legal highs addiction treatment

The specific medications that are used to help an individual with their substance dependence treatment mostly depend on what is known about the particular substance to which they are addicted.

In some cases, such as when an individual’s addiction is mild, medication may not be necessary.

For more serious addictions, however, especially those that involve an individual having to be tapered off the drug, medication can help lead to a safer detox.

Drugs such as naltrexone are used after the detox process has been completed. They work by blocking the receptors in the brain that would be activated by substances commonly found in legal highs.

Administering them to a client before the completion of detox can lead to very severe detox symptoms.

Disulfiram can be used when a person is suffering from alcoholism as well as legal highs addiction. It can help to control withdrawal symptoms and make them less intense for the individual. (7)

Legal Highs Addiction Support Groups in the UK

There are numerous legal highs support groups in the UK. Many of them support individuals with addictions of varying intensities, and they are all designed to help lead users to recovery. (8)

Support groups can be used in conjunction with rehab treatment to provide the best chances of overcoming a legal highs addiction. However, those with mild addictions may find the advice and help given in support groups to be enough to help them overcome their addictions.

Several support groups all over the UK help people with addictions to legal highs. They offer the flexibility of allowing individuals to attend a support group with people of the same age or those who may be facing similar circumstances.

Support groups are designed to give legal highs addiction sufferers a sense of community and a way to receive help from people who are having an experience similar to theirs.

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Legal Highs Addiction Statistics

Statistics provided by Drug Wise show that legal highs are a growing problem in the UK. Until 2006, there was little interest in legal highs among the general public. Manufacturers then started to flood the market with easy-to-get cheap drugs that could be found at local head shops.

Legislation passed by the UK government, the Psychoactive Substances Act, now prohibits the manufacture and distribution of psychoactive substances that are not listed under legislation’s exemptions.

Fatalities related to legal highs have also risen. There were 76 deaths resulting from the use of legal highs in England and Wales between 2004 and 2013. In 2013 alone, there were 23 deaths in which legal highs were a factor.

The passing of the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016 has led to fewer people using and getting addicted to legal highs. In 2017, 61 fatalities resulted from the use of legal highs, while there was a total of 1,523 seizures related to legal highs. (8) The rate of use is still significant.

Ready to Get Help?

Addiction to legal highs can have negative effects on a person’s social, personal and professional life. With help, however, these can be reversed.

The sooner a legal highs addiction sufferer seeks help, the less intense their withdrawal symptoms will be. This can contribute to a safer and more comfortable recovery.

Many rehab facilities offer treatment tailored to the individual’s specific needs.
If an addiction to legal highs has been troubling you and causing issues in your life, safe and confidential treatment can help you overcome your addiction and return to a healthy lifestyle.

Get help today

Because of how addiction to legal highs alters the brain, force of will is not enough to stop cravings and substance dependence.

Confidential rehab treatment is the safest way to overcome an addiction to legal highs. Detoxification rids your body of toxins, while therapy allows you to learn healthy coping mechanisms that can help you to live a drug-free life and avoid relapse.

Rehab treatment programmes are tailored to your circumstances so that you get the treatment that matches your exact needs and is best suited to help you overcome your addiction.

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