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Why do we need to know about legal highs?

  • Comments (3)

I have two teenage children who have been through a school system that claims to educate them about the dangers of drug and alcohol misuse. In year five of primary school they both graduated from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education programme and have regular PHSE classes at secondary school.

So when I quizzed them recently about legal highs I was surprised how little they knew. They were able to name a few (Spice, Bubble Bud and Khat) but had no idea about the potential dangers associated with using these substances.

Last month we published an article discussing the management of legal highs or party drugs. These drugs produce stimulant effects similar to those of cocaine and ecstasy and are legal, cheap and widely available on our high streets.

The author of the article, David Solomon, described the problems of legislating to prevent the sale of these dependency forming drugs;  as one formula is made illegal, manufacturers simply make minor molecular changes to the make-up of the drug and manage to circumvent the legislation.

While a game of cat and mouse is played out between policy makers and manufacturers people’s lives are at risk as user of these drugs associate the word “ legal” with “safe”.

People are exposing themselves to side effects including reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, seizures and even death. While users of these drugs may appear naïve it is easy to see how they can be dragged into believing they are safe when the law appears to be on the side of the manufacturers. This makes the health education message more difficult to deliver effectively.

As the use of legal highs increases, health professionals are likely to see more and more patients attending emergency services with complications. We all have an important role in educating the public about the dangers. Our schools and colleges also need to ensure that they are providing young people with up to date and relevant  information about using these substances.

So would you feel confident discussing the dangers with patients and signpost them for specialist help if this is required?

If not, you may find the following article useful. I certainly did.


Subscribers have access to over 4,500+ double-blind peer reviewed articles, including the one discussed by Eileen.

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  • Comments (3)

Readers' comments (3)

  • Do what we have done in New Zealand. They are all now illegal until the manufacturer can prove them to be safe AND they cannot be tested on animals. So far none have been made legal. Problem solved. Just needs the Government to have the guts to change the law...

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  • Anonymous

    "Government" and "guts" aren't normally used in the same sentence :)

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  • Anonymous

    A lot of the problems you describe here are also a symptom of current drug legislation on illegal drugs (such as ecstasy) - and the treating of drug taking as a criminal issue, not a health issue. The problem with legal highs has been around for many years.

    It's not so much a case of people choosing legal highs because they believe they are safe - it's more a case of people choosing them because they are very readily available and by taking them people don't risk becoming criminalized.

    The problem is that these drugs are new, and their dangers can be less understood than many illegal drugs, because they haven't been available to society for any length of time to establish what the risks are. These drugs, which are created as a response to other drugs being illegal, can be more dangerous for this reason. Hence it is our own drug policy that is driving this.

    Many doctors increasingly see drug taking as a health issue, and not a criminal issue. The BMA has recently been debating legalization of cannabis. Based on the evidence there is, there is growing pressure to legalize and properly regulate drugs. If this happens I think people should be properly educated / informed about the dangers from a young age.

    Proper regulation and controls on drugs would reduce the health risks associated with people taking illegal drugs, and would reduce the market for dangerous legal highs - with unknown short / long term side effects.

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