A UN study states that there has been an unprecedented increase in the legal high market recently. Between 2000 and 2005 there were five new substances a year, this shot up to almost 1 a week in 2011 and the trend continues. The drugs are a mixture of legal chemicals that imitate the effects of illegal drugs. The reason they’re such a problem is that they manage to stay ahead of the law as the make-up of the different drugs is able to constantly change. As soon as new substances are made illegal new ones emerge onto the market. The speed that they’re available at means there is almost no time for them to be tested by experts.
‘Legal’ highs are manmade drugs that produce similar effects to illegal drugs like cocaine or ecstasy. Their purity, strength (potency) and toxicity can’t be guaranteed and can vary from batch to batch and from different suppliers.
The term ‘legal highs’ can be really misleading. The drugs aren’t so much legal but rather not illegal yet. It doesn’t mean that they’re safe to use and they can even contain ingredients that are illegal to possess. In most cases the elements of illegal highs have never been used for human consumption before - this means that there’s no way of knowing how they might affect your body. The illegal drugs market isn’t worried about safety.
They can be more dangerous than the drugs they are replicating because their composition is so unknown. The emergence of new drugs means that there have been no tests into how they can affect you and what the possible side effects are or their interaction with prescribed medication.
Class A drugs include:
heroin, cocaine, methadone, ecstasy (MDMA), LSD, and magic mushrooms
Class B includes:
amphetamines, barbiturates, codeine, cannabis, cathinones
Class C includes:
benzodiazepines (tranquilisers), GHB, ketamine, anabolic steroids and GBL
The 'Escalation' penalty system applies to the possession of cannabis. Depending on the circumstances and how old you are will affect what police do. If you’re caught for the first time the weed will be confiscated and you’ll be given a warning. If you’re under 18 you’ll be reprimanded and a parent or guardian will be told. The second time you’ll get a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) and on the spot £80 fine. The third time you could face prosecution at the discretion of the officer. Any additional times are likely to end in arrest.
Legal highs really hit headlines in 2010 with the extensive use of Mephedrone - you’ve probably heard of it referred to as ‘MCAT’ or ‘meow-meow’ and it’s now an illegal class B drug. It was cheap and easy to get a hold of via the internet and its similarity to speed and cocaine meant that is was popular amongst clubbers - where it was the fourth most popular drug. There were a number of deaths of young people which created real media frenzy and made more people aware of the problem of legal highs.
Mephedrone may now be illegal but people are still taking it. Last month housemates Emma Johnston and Chris Goodwin died after taking the former legal high. Three of their friends who also took the drug were hospitalised on the same day. This goes to show that these drugs, even though easy to get, can be really dangerous.
Understandably there is growing concern over the widespread use of legal highs, particularly amongst young people. The word ‘legal’ means loads of people are lulled into a false sense of security about how safe it is to use the substances.
The legal highs, often also known as ‘designer drugs’, are often sold on the internet and a fifth of sites that sell the drugs are hosted on British servers. The prevalence of websites that sell these drugs has increased over 300% in the last two years.
They get around selling the drugs by advertising them as not being for human consumption. For this reason, you’ll see the drugs being referred to as plant food, bath crystals or even pond cleaner.
Not having to meet a dealer and using the internet to buy drugs can give the impression that they’re safe. Using the internet to buy drugs makes it like any other internet shopping experience promoting the view that it is safe.
The most recent drug death figures show that there was an overall fall in drug related deaths of 14% between 2009 and 2010. But there has been an increase in deaths from ‘legal highs’ going up from 5 to 43 in one year.
Hospitals in the UK are seeing more and more admissions from people using the new substances. The Glasgow health board, which is Scotland’s largest, reported a 358% rise in hospital admissions relating to legal highs. This reflects the general trend for the UK. The symptoms of people being admitted include a very fast heartbeat and high blood pressure, which increases their chances of having a stroke or heart attack.
In a bid to keep on top of the constant production of new legal highs the government can now introduce a temporary ban on substances that they think may be harmful while they wait for a verdict from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) as to whether it should be permanently banned. While it’s under a temporary ban it won’t be illegal to possess for personal use but it could be confiscated and destroyed by the police. In this time it will be illegal to import, distribute and sell the drug – anyone caught could be fined and sent to jail. If you are under the influence of any substance while you’re driving then the law can decide you are ‘impaired’ and take your licence from you and give you a criminal record.
The new substances, like all drugs can be particularly dangerous if they’re mixed with alcohol or other drugs. Just because something isn’t illegal doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe and not knowing what you’re putting into your body is always a risk. Don’t take chances, never experiment with the unknown.