What are “legal highs”?
Legal highs is a term used to describe drugs that have not been regulated by law – often because they are so new that not enough is known about them to decide if regulation is needed.
There tends to be a bit of ‘cat and mouse’ when it comes to the development of substances and the legislative process. It’s worthy of note that drugs go from being ’legal highs’ to being controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act with all the powers and sanctions that go along with it. Remember, just because someone says a substance is a legal high does not necessarily mean that it is – so if its tested and it isn’t, you could be in trouble.
Are they safe?
The most important message is: LEGAL DOES NOT MEAN SAFE!!
In fact it may be more risky using these unknown compounds than using established illegal drugs. A pharmaceutical company can spend around 15 years testing a drug’s safety before it is generally available to humans, but some of these compounds have only been in existence a few months.
Ketamine has been used recreationally for over 50 years but the first case of ketamine bladder was not reported in medical literature until 2007. It took many years to prove the link between tobacco smoking and cancer. So clearly taking a brand new research chemical is something of a gamble.
Where can I find high quality accurate information about all of these new drugs?
You can’t. The drugs are so new that the research does not exist yet. There are many different drugs with approximately one new drug a week during 2012.
3 common types are:
Stimulants – drugs that increase energy and are often snorted white powders. e.g. GoGaine
Hallucinogens – drugs with LSD/magic mushroom type effects e.g. AMT, 5-MEO-DALT
Synthetic Cannabinoids – drugs which have a cannabis like effect e.g. Black Mamba, Magic Dragon, Doob
Branded products like Charly Sheen, Gogaine, Ching and Poke may contain stimulant drugs like methiopropamine or ethylphenidate. Some dealers sell these products as cocaine.
Stimulants can lead to high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and this can be fatal in some people. If you feel your heart beating rapidly it is very important not to re-dose. Many people find that after their first 1,2 or 3 lines the effects are less pleasant and side effects worse. Other side effects like anxiety and nausea can develop.
Stimulants can also lead to paranoia and hallucinations. They can also lead to compulsive re-dosing and addiction.
Tolerance can develop and higher doses required.
It should be fairly clear to any regular user that stimulants can be bad for your mental health. Low mood and anxiety are very common in the days after use.
Some hallucinogenic drugs are sold including AMT and 5-MeO-DALT. These can produce very intense psychedelic experiences that can be quite traumatic, particularly if unexpected. These include visual and auditory hallucinations and disturbances in all modalities of perception.
If hallucinogenic drugs are taken in the wrong set (mindset) and setting (environment) then it can lead to a highly uncomfortable experience. This is why drugs like Salvia are not generally recommended as a party drug.
Herbal Incenses contain drugs which stimulate cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This means they can produce an effect similar to THC (an important psychoactive ingredient in cannabis). However sometimes they can be many more times more potent. A large worldwide study found that users preferred normal cannabis and found it less harmful than synthetic cannabis.
Sometimes products sold as herbal incense/synthetic cannabinoids can contain hallucinogens, for instance Black Mamba containing 5-MeO-DALT. This can lead users to having unexpected hallucinogenic experiences when expecting a more cannabis like high. Accident and Emergency departments in the UK have seen people in extremely agitated and psychotic states due to this.
Addiction Problems with legal highs
At Leeds Club Drug Clinic we have seen far more problems relating to addiction to ketamine, mephedrone, cocaine, cannabis and GHB than currently legal highs. This may be due to less use, or because unpleasant side effects stop people from becoming regular users.
At LCDC we offer non-judgemental advice and support, assessment and medical interventions where necessary. We approach problems with substance use as a health and education issue, not as a criminal issue, and all information is kept confidential in accordance with NHS standards.