Addiction to Novel Psychoactive Substances (aka ‘Legal Highs’)

In 2016, the UK introduced a blanket ban on Novel Psychoactive Substances, criminalising the production, distribution, sale, and supply of so-called ‘legal’ drugs. Yet, possession of small amounts of some substances is still legal.

Legal highs (now legally known as new psychoactive substances) came with huge misconceptions; people believed that because they were legal, they were safe. Whereas in reality, these legal highs were as dangerous as illegal drugs, if not more so. As they were available to buy in high-street shops and online, users would sometimes be unaware of the dangers in which they were putting themselves.

What makes a substance a legal high and not an illicit drug?

Before legal highs became illegal, they were recognised drugs with an altered chemical structure so they became dissimilar to their original form, and thus were no longer illegal as they were not yet recognised or regulated. Essentially, chemists would alter the structural compound of an illegal drug so they fall outside of drug control laws. These chemical compounds would not undergo testing for safety or side effects, so users cannot be sure what the outcome of using the substance will be. Where the user may be looking for a stimulant or depressant, it would also come with side effects, such as paranoia, seizures, and even comas. Legal highs will often not come with dosage recommendations or even have ‘not safe for human consumption’ labels on their packaging to prevent supplier issues with the law.

At first, people created legal highs with the aim of producing them quicker than the government could ban them, meaning drugs went through rapid altering, creating, and marketing with little thought or testing into the possible dangers. The risk of the fast-paced creation process of legal highs means that there’s little known about their potency, short-term or long-term side effects, and what happens when mixing them with alcohol or other drugs. The packaging on these substances may guide a list of ingredients, but since there is no regulation, users can never be sure what’s really inside.

Legal high epidemic

Producers design legal highs to replicate the effects of illegal substances, such as cocaine, cannabis, and ecstasy. Some common legal highs used in the UK are methylphenidates, which they promote as a cocaine alternative; laughing gas, otherwise known as nitrous oxide; and cannabinoids, such as Spice, which they advertise as a cannabis alternative.

The legal high Spice has hit headlines in recent years because of a boom in users developing an addiction. Spice started life as a chemically altered alternative to cannabis, which promised a relaxing high. In reality, the side effects were far from this. Many refer to Spice as a ‘zombie drug’ because users induce themselves into a semi-comatose state.

Because Spice is a relatively new drug, the long-term effects of a Spice addiction are not yet realised. Short-term though, users can expect to see psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia and hallucinations. Spice is also associated with cases of heart attacks and kidney failure. Instant side effects of Spice use can include:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Overheating
  • Hallucinations
  • Chest pains
  • Seizures
  • Severe vomiting
  • Frothing at the mouth
  • Unconsciousness

Treatment for spice addiction

The sudden onset of health complications brought on by Spice can often result in death, so it’s imperative that someone with a Spice addiction seeks medical help as soon as possible.

When a long-term Spice addict seeks help, it is important that they carry out withdrawal with the help of medical professionals alongside support, as immediate withdrawal may cause serious health implications.

For more information on the treatments services offered by Charterhouse Clinic for drug addiction, please visit our drug addiction treatment page.

If you or a loved one suffers from a Spice addiction or an addiction to any legal high or new psychoactive substance, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our expert team, so we can help you to rebuild a drug-free life.