What are legal highs?

What are legal highs?

What exactly are legal highs?

Officially described as new psychoactive substances (NPS), a legal high is a mood-altering or stimulant substance whose sale is not banned by current legislation. They are made up of various chemical ingredients and replicate a similar user experience of illegal drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine. They are extremely addictive and can have fatal side effects.

The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act classifies illegal drugs based on their chemical composition. The chemical make-up of a legal high is slightly altered to get around this legislation thus making them legal. They can’t in fact be sold for human consumption and so are often marketed as bath salts, incense or plant food as another way to get around the law.

Are they safe?

A common misconception is that the word ‘legal’ means safe but these so-called legal highs are often untested, dangerous and addictive substances with potentially fatal side effects. It is has been reported by experts that the legal high Spice can be up to 100 times as potent as cannabis. The risks involved increase when taken with alcohol.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Randox Testing Services’ legal highs expert and Toxicology Manager Dr Mark Piper had this to say:

“Legal highs (or psychoactive substances) are really chemicals, they’re not drugs as such, they’re chemicals that have been purchased from the Far East and there can be anything in these materials. They are produced in labs without any form of quality control; you simply do not know what is in these packets.”


In 2014 there were 140 deaths reported in the UK alone. There is no doubt that legal highs are becoming more prevalent. Research is being carried out to investigate what exactly legal highs contain and how potent they are. In many cases it’s been found that they actually do contain illegal substances.

Due to the prevalence of these drugs a proposed ‘blanket ban’ is set to be introduced across the UK. The ban will be enforced across England and Wales on 26th May 2016.

Testing for legal highs

Randox Testing Services provides drug and alcohol services including tests for new legal highs. For more information on our tests for psychoactive substances click here or get in touch.