Legal highs or Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are substances designed to produce the same or similar effects to drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy but are structurally different enough to avoid being controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Legal highs cannot be sold for human consumption so they are often sold as bath salts, incense, plant food or advertised as 'not for human consumption' to get round the law. The packaging may describe a list of ingredients but you cannot be sure that is what the product will contain.

Just because a substance is sold as ‘legal’ doesn’t mean that it’s safe or legal. You can’t really be sure of what’s in a ‘legal high’ you’ve bought or been given, or what effect it’s likely to have on you or your friends. We know that many ‘legal highs’ are sold under brand names like ‘Clockwork Orange’, ‘Bliss’ and ‘Mary Jane’ and have been directly linked to poisoning, emergency hospital admissions including in mental health services and in some cases deaths.

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

Legal high harm-reduction advice

  • Get information before you use – ask around, do an internet search but don’t believe everything you hear. There is some incorrect information out there.
  • Use of legal highs is more risky if you have a health problem – consider if you’re in a fit-enough state to take them!
  • Start with a really small amount – less than any recommended dose. Wait at least an hour before deciding whether or not to take more. Start low and go slow.
  • If you snort, chop powders finely first. Don’t inject but if you do, don’t share works with other people
  • Don’t take too much or use too often
  • Some products sold as ‘legal highs’ also contain illegal drugs; you could be breaking the law without knowing it
  • Only use one drug at a time – mixing with other drugs can have unpleasant and dangerous side effects
  • Don’t use alone – do it with other people you trust and choose a safe environment in which to use
  • Don’t drive, operate machinery, go swimming or take a bath whilst you’re on the drug. If you end up having sex, take care and use condoms.

Back to more information about other drugs