Legal highs

‘Legal highs’ contain one or more chemical substances which produce similar effects to illegal drugs.

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Legal highs, sometimes called club drugs or new psychoactive substances (NPS), are not covered by current misuse of drugs laws, which means there is often not enough research about them to understand their potency, adverse effects or effects when used with other substances such as alcohol.

Although these drugs are marketed as legal substances, this doesn’t mean that they are safe or approved for people to use. Some legal highs actually contain ingredients that are illegal to possess.

The chemicals they contain have in most cases never been used in drugs for human consumption before, so users can never be certain what they are taking and what the effects might be.

How legal highs make you feel

The main effects of almost all ‘psychoactive’ drugs, including ‘legal highs’, can be described using three main categories:

  • Stimulant ‘legal highs’ act like amphetamines (‘speed’), cocaine, or ecstasy, in that they can make you feel energised, physically active, fast-thinking, very chatty and euphoric
  • ‘Downer’ or sedative ‘legal highs’ act similarly to cannabis, benzodiazepines (drugs like diazepam or Valium), or GHB/GBL, in that they can make you feel euphoric, relaxed or sleepy
  • Psychedelic or hallucinogenic ‘legal highs’ act like LSD, magic mushrooms, ketamine and methoxetamine. They can create altered perceptions and can make you hallucinate (seeing and/or hearing things that aren’t there). They can induce feelings of euphoria and warmth, and feeling detached from the world. Some psychedelic drugs create strong dissociative effects, which make you feel like your mind and body are separated

Although drugs in each of these categories will have similarities in the effects that they produce, legal highs vary widely in their strengths and the effect on individuals.

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