Created to mimic the effects of illegal drugs like LSD and ecstasy, ‘legal’ highs are designed so that they are chemically different enough to not be covered by UK law. This means they can be sold on high streets across the UK and online through various websites.
The chemicals involved are known as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) and they tend to be made en masse in countries like India and China before being packaged up and distributed throughout Europe.
What is a ‘legal’ high?
Legal highs are formed of substances that trigger similar effects to illegal drugs, but are not controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act. The reason they are not controlled by this act is because there isn’t enough research on the substance to base a decision on.
While the substances cannot legally be sold for human consumption, they continue to be sold as bath salts or plant food to get around the law. As long as the packaging states that the substance is not for human consumption, selling the product is legal.
The government states that they are leading the way globally by banning such substances quickly. The problem with this is that often new versions get cooked up and distributed as soon as a ban comes into place. A worrying 73 new substances were identified by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in 2012 alone.
As well as causing a rising number of deaths, these legal highs are also resulting in brain damage. Richard Phillips, 26, was left severely brain damaged after consuming the now banned drug N-Bomb (a LSD impersonator). At the time he had been drinking alcohol and had small traces of cocaine in his system.
Doctors believe it was this cocktail of substances that led to the brain damage. His brother, Byron Phillips said:
“He’s dependent on 24-hour care. He can hold his head up and move his arms but that’s about as far as it goes. He can breathe for himself but he is fed through a peg in his stomach.”
While researchers have identified certain substances that lead to death when taken alone, it is more common for a combination of alcohol, the legal high and sometimes illegal drugs like cocaine that proves lethal.