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Legal highs are a growing problem for many young people around the world. Despite the fact that the UK government is set to introduce the Psychoactive Substance Ban later this month (May 2016), it will come too late for a number of people. The BBC has spoken to Grace, an eighteen-year-old who has suffered the devastation of a legal high addiction that she describes as having ‘taken control of her life’.

Illegal drugs such as cannabis, heroin, cocaine and ecstasy have always been a worry for parents, but legal highs that have appeared on the market in recent times have become a growing concern that has been linked to a number of deaths in the UK.

Destructive Addiction

Grace left home when her relationship with her family broke down. She was living on the street, and in a bid to cope with the cold weather, she began smoking the legal high Spice. She admits she became addicted quite quickly, adding, “My emotional attachment to Spice was ridiculous.”

She spoke about how agitated she would become when she did not have the synthetic cannabis and how she would repeatedly punch herself in the head. She said she felt that she needed the drug to help her sleep and to keep herself calm. When she did not have it, she would lose control, and admits, “I’ve given myself full black eyes from it before, just because I haven’t got it.”

Dangerous Drugs

Legal highs are manufactured substances made to mimic illegal drugs. The biggest concern among experts is that people just do not know what they are taking. Each batch of a particular substance can be different from the last, with manufacturers using different ingredients whenever one substance is banned. This means that a person can have an adverse reaction to a legal high that they have previously taken without any issues.

Grace knows the dangers of legal highs all too well and says that she has seen people collapse ten seconds after taking one of these substances. She said, “People think, ‘I’ll only have a few drags’, but you will end up getting addicted. It changes people permanently. I’ll never be the same as I was again. When you are smoking it, it depends on the person. If you’ve never had it, a little bit can make you end up barking like a dog and spitting at people.”

Growing Problem

Grace is one of many young homeless individuals struggling with addictions to legal highs such as Spice. At the Lifeshare drop-in centre in Manchester where she often visits, support staff say that of the three hundred clients it has dealt with this year, ninety-five per cent have a problem with Spice. Support worker Julie Boyle said, “It’s the most dangerous drug that has caused the most damage, in the shortest space of time, to the most vulnerable communities that we have got. I can’t emphasise enough how much of a destructive, horrible drug it is. It’s absolutely awful.”

Proposed Ban

The UK government is about to bring the Psychoactive Substance Ban into place in response to the growing concern regarding legal highs. With so many youngsters believing that these drugs are safe to take, there is a continued issue with under eighteen’s developing addictions to legal highs. In 2014, there were 144 UK deaths linked to legal highs. In addition, according to Public Health England, in the last year, the number of people under the age of eighteen who have been treated for a legal high addiction has risen by 176%.

The ban on legal highs will prevent the sale of these substances on the streets and will mean that those found in possession with intent to supply could face up to seven years in prison.


  1. BBC 
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