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  1. ITV Report

What are 'legal highs'?

Incidents involving 'legal highs' in Cumbria have risen Credit: ITV News

Across Cumbria, the number of incidents involving 'legal highs' have continued to rise.

In 2009 Cumbria Police dealt with just one incident, but last year that figure had risen to 22.

Incidents range from possession of a legal high, to behaviour resulting from taking a legal high.

What are 'legal highs'?

‘Legal highs’ or Novel Psychoactive Substances produce similar effects to illegal drugs but that are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

These new substances are not yet controlled because there is not enough research about them to base a decision on. However, more and more ‘legal highs’ are being researched to see what the dangers are and if they should be made illegal.

Very little research has been done into 'legal highs' or their effects Credit: ITV News

Are they safe?

Although these substances are sold as being legal to possess it doesn't mean that they are safe.

You can’t really be sure what’s in a ‘legal high’ that you’ve bought, or been given, or what effect it’s likely to have on you.

The use of many ‘legal highs’, like mephedrone, Ivory Wave and 5-IT, have been directly linked to emergency hospital admissions and, in some cases, deaths.

How to 'legal highs' affect the body?

The main effects of almost all ‘psychoactive’ drugs, including ‘legal highs’, can be described using three main categories: stimulants‘downers’ or sedatives, psychedelics or hallucinogens.

Whilst drugs in each of the categories will have similarities in the kinds of effects they produce, they will have widely different strengths.

  • 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. However, they can make you overconfident and disinhibited, and can induce feelings of anxiety, panic, confusion, paranoia and can even cause psychosis.
  • ‘Downer’ or sedative ‘legal highs’ act similar to benzodiazepines (drugs like diazepam or Valium), and like cannabis or GHB/GBL, in that they can make you feel euphoric, relaxed or sleepy and reduce inhibitions and concentration, making you feel forgetful, and can slow down your reactions.
  • Psychedelic or hallucinogenic‘legal highs’ act like LSD, magic mushrooms and ketamine. They create altered perceptions and can make you hallucinate (seeing and/or hearing things that aren’t there). They can also induce feelings of euphoria, warmth, ‘enlightenment’ and being detached from the world around. However, they can cause confusion and panics. Some psychedelic drugs create strong dissociative effects, which make you feel like your mind and body are separated.
The chemicals they contain have, in most cases, never been used in drugs for human consumption Credit: ITV News

What are the risks?

Legal highs can carry serious health risks. The chemicals they contain have, in most cases, never been used in drugs for human consumption before, so haven't been tested to show that they are safe.

Users can never be certain what they are taking and what the effects might be.

Other risks:

  • You increase the risk to yourself if you combine alcohol with any legal or illegal substance that causes a high, including the risk of death.
  • Reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, coma, seizures and death.
  • Because legal highs are often new and, in many cases, the actual chemical ingredients in a branded product can be changed without you knowing, the risks are unpredictable.
  • It is likely that a drug sold as a ‘legal high’ may contain one or more substances that are actually illegal to possess.

If you would like more information on 'legal highs' you can visit the FRANK, Strange Molecules and NHS websites.

If you'd like to know more about the legal implications of 'legal highs' you can visit the Home Office website.