‘Legal High’ Drugs - Drug Addiction

A group of drugs that are sold legally and which imitate the effects of illegal drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine.

Examples of these include herbal smoking mixtures, diet pills (ephedrine), herbal ecstasy and mephedrone. We can also include GHB, BZP (benzylpiperazine), poppers such as amyl nitrite and caffeine drinks/pills.

What is a ‘legal high?’ 

This is a type of substance which has the same effects as an illegal drug but can be bought legally, and openly. They are not regulated by the Misuse of Drugs Act although changes have been, or are being made to control these substances.

Many of these are naturally occurring substances but the newest one - mephedrone, has been synthetically produced in laboratories.

What do they look like?

Some of these are herbal mixtures which can be added to tobacco and smoked. Others such as mephedrone come as a white powder or as tablets or capsules.

Poppers such as amyl nitrite or butyl nitrite are inhaled.

Others such as ephedrine are found in over the counter medicines or pills used for weight control.

How are legal highs used?

They can be taken orally, smoked, inhaled, added to drinks or injected (very rare).

What are their street names?

Many of these substances have ‘trade names’: in other words, names that they are marketed under, for example the herbal smoking mixture known as ‘Spice’. 

Other names include:

  • Meow Meow (mephedrone)
  • Herbal Viagra
  • Eclipse (herbal ecstasy)
  • Cloud 9 (herbal ecstasy/ephedrine)
  • Liquid gold (poppers)

Who uses legal highs?

They are used by young people, clubbers and festival goers.

How much do they cost?

Costs vary according to what part of the country you live in.

As a rough guide you can expect to pay:

  • Mephedrone can cost around £10 to £15 per gram
  • Herbal Viagra around £20 per sachet
  • Spice around £30 per sachet
  • Herbal ecstasy (Cloud 9) around £15 per 100 tablets
  • Liquid Gold (poppers) around £5 per bottle

What are the effects of legal highs?

These vary depending upon which substance you are using. For example, if you smoke Spice then you will find that the effects are similar to those of cannabis. These include feeling relaxed and ‘chilled out’ or hyperactive, talkative and giggly. Many people find that their perceptions have altered or that they experience mild hallucinations. A drug such as mephedrone causes similar effects to those from using ecstasy or cocaine. These include euphoria, increased confidence, lots of energy and empathy with others. It can also suppress the appetite, speed up the heart rate and reduce inhibitions.

Spice and herbal viagra (e.g. yohimbine) are added to loose tobacco and smoked as a cigarette or through a pipe. They cause hallucinogenic effects and also act upon the body in a similar way to ecstasy.

Herbal ecstasy such as Cloud 9 acts as a stimulant upon the body which means increased heart rate and breathing, a sense of euphoria, dilated pupils and general talkativeness. It can also cause hallucinogenic effects such as a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings.

Liquid gold and other types of poppers cause an intense ‘rush’ when inhaled which also includes feelings of disorientation, nausea, dizziness and headaches. They can also improve sexual performance.

Is it easy to become addicted to legal highs?

Yes. Many of these substances behave in the same way as synthetic drugs and can lead to dependency over a period of time. For example a drug such as mephedrone is similar to ecstasy in that it is highly addictive and leads to psychological changes in the user.

People who use mephedrone find it very difficult to stop.

These substances are more powerful than many people realise and can be as equally as addictive as their illegal cousins.

What are the risks of legal highs?

Some of these are not regulated under the Misuse of Drugs Act but there have been amendments to this which make it illegal to sell or supply them for human use under the medicines legislation.

But it is very easy to assume that because these drugs are freely available that they are safer than synthetic varieties. Even the herbal substances such as Spice or Salvia have side effects.

The problem is that many of these substances contain all sorts of chemicals which have not always been tested for human consumption. So you are not quite sure what you are getting and the effect it will have upon your system.

There are no long term studies on these drugs so no-one really knows what the long term health risks are.

If they are combined with other substances such as alcohol then this increases the risks. Physical risks include hypertension, heart disease, nosebleeds, weight loss, tremors and diabetes.

Psychological risks include anxiety, panic attacks, memory loss, paranoia and even schizophrenia.


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