What are ‘legal highs’?

In Brief

30 July 2014

Article by Philippa Watkins, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Legal highs have become seen as an emerging threat following the rapid growth in use of the drug mephedrone (meow meow, m-cat) in 2009.

The umbrella term ‘legal highs’ has been used in reference to a variety of substances, including prescription drugs such as tranquillisers, but commonly refers to ‘new psychoactive substances’ – drugs which have been synthesised to produce the same or similar effects as illegal drugs. Because they are newly created, and their chemical composition may be slightly different to that of banned substances, new psychoactive substances are not automatically controlled under drugs legislation (in the UK, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971).

Widely available via the internet and on the high street, their ease of availability, along with what may be a low price and high purity compared with illegal drugs, are thought to…

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