What Are “Legal Highs”?

Don’t let the name fool you – legal highs are not necessarily legal.

Legal highs are another name for designer drugs or research chemicals and refer to synthetic drugs created to mimic the effects of a naturally-derived drug. These substances are usually created in underground laboratories and involve mixing different ingredients together, each of which tends to be legal on their own.

What Are Some Examples of Legal Highs?

Legal highs can refer to a variety of psychoactive drugs and can mimic the effects of morphine, marijuana, cocaine, and more. Effects range from stimulants to sedatives to psychedelics.

These drugs are sold in various forms including pills, powders, and tabs. The ingredients used in legal highs are usually bought and sold legally, making the resulting substance technically legal – insofar as it’s not technically illegal. When sold, these designer drugs are often labelled as “not for human consumption” and may be sold as “plant food”, “bath salts”, or “incense”.

Ingredients in these substances often vary as the manufacturer tries to take advantage of loopholes in the law.

What Does the Law Say About Legal Highs?

As these drugs are synthesized by combining various legal ingredients, authorities in countries all around the world have essentially been playing “catch up” with the drug manufacturers when it comes to controlling them.

In the United States, the Controlled Substance Analogue of 1986 was enacted to try to ban these drugs preemptively by making it illegal to “manufacture, sell, or possess chemicals that were substantially similar in chemistry and pharmacology to Schedule I or Schedule II drugs.”

What Are the Risks of Legal Highs?

Addiction – The risk of developing an addiction to a legal high varies depending on the type of drug a person is consuming. For example, certain psychedelic drugs like LSD don’t carry a high risk of addiction (though a tolerance can certainly be developed) while synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have an extremely high potential for causing addiction.

Overdose – The underground nature of synthesizing legal highs means that the drugs are not tested or regulated before going on the market. Ingredients and potency can vary drastically, so it may be difficult for users to determine what size of a dose is acceptable to take without causing an overdose.

Adverse health effects – Due to the lack of testing for safety, users can’t be certain what the outcome of using these substances will be. Seizures, paranoia, and comas may all result from legal highs.

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