Legal highs

Find out about the health risks of legal highs and when to seek medical help.

Drugs information

  • To find out more about specific drugs, including mephedrone (meow meow), BZP, GBL and naphyrone, go to the A-Z of Drugs on the FRANK website.
  • For confidential advice about all aspects of drugs and drugs use, call the FRANK helpline on 0800 77 66 00.

Legal highs are substances used like illegal drugs such as cocaine or cannabis, but not covered by current misuse of drugs laws, and so legal to possess or to use.

Although these drugs are marketed as legal substances, this doesn’t mean that they are safe or approved for people to use. It just means that they’ve not been declared illegal to use and possess. They are still normally considered illegal to sell under medicines legislation.

Some drugs marketed as legal highs actually contain some ingredients that are illegal to possess.

The risks

Legal highs can carry serious health risks. The chemicals they contain have in most cases never been used in drugs for human consumption before, so haven't been tested to show that they are safe. Users can never be certain what they are taking and what the effects might be.

Other risks:

  • You increase the risk to yourself if you combine alcohol with any legal or illegal substance that causes a high, including the risk of death.
  • Reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, coma, seizures and death.
  • Because legal highs are often new and, in many cases, the actual chemical ingredients in a branded product can be changed without you knowing, the risks are unpredictable.
  • It is likely that a drug sold as a ‘legal high’ may contain one or more substances that are actually illegal to possess.

When to seek medical help

Most problems with short-term use of legal highs will settle after you stop taking them. However, the negative effects of some legal highs can take a few days to wear off completely, just like the comedown from stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines.

If you think you are having a serious negative reaction soon after taking a legal high or you experience problems that do not settle with a little time out, fluids and fresh air, get medical help straight away by going to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital.

If you are worried about continuing health problems after you've stopped taking the drugs, visit your GP. But if you think further advice would be helpful before deciding whether to visit your GP, call the FRANK drugs helpline on 0800 77 66 00 or NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.

Legal highs and the law

Many drugs that were previously sold as legal highs are now controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, including mephedrone (meow meow), naphyrone, BZP, GBL and synthetic cannabinoids (such as those found in Spice products). This means that they are illegal to possess or to supply to others.

To find out more about the latest news on legal highs, go to the FRANK and Home Office websites:

 

Page last reviewed: 09/10/2012

Next review due: 09/10/2014

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

cazmarshy92 said on 31 December 2013

Dangerous!!!

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Dangerous Dave said on 31 October 2012

It's good to see the NHS putting up pages about legal highs, I think we need to understand that these chemicals are dangerous!

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