Parents & Carers

What you need to know about New Psychoactive Substance-NPS [commonly called 'legal highs']

  • What are NPS?
  • What harm can they do?
  • How are they sold?
  • Why take them?
  • Help, what to say and how to say it?
  • Where can I get more help and support?
  • What are NPS?

    NPS [commonly called 'legal highs'] were generally mixtures of herbs that were smoked.  Others were minor stimulants with ingredients such as caffeine or ephedrine, but times have changed with a growing market for ‘party pills’, ‘designer drugs’ with effects that are thought to mimic other illegal drugs such as cocaine.

    NPS drugs are known by a multitude of nick names, brand names or chemical names. These drugs act mostly on the central nervous system where they affect brain function, causing changes in mood, perception, consciousness, thinking and behaviour.

     These substances are made by means of chemistry and since the psychoactive substance act 2016 they are became illegal drugs.The reality of these drugs can be potentially serious side effects or death.  

    What harm can they do?

    Drugs that are intended for human consumption such as prescription and over the counter drugs are carefully tested to decide how they can be used safely. NPS are chemicals that are untested, the user becomes the 'guinea pig'. These drugs are fundamentally dangerous people are taking a real risk with their health/life.

    NPS can be more deadly than drugs such as cocaine or heroin. Reported effects of taking these mind altering substances include, drowsiness, hallucination, being more reckless - less self-control, excited or paranoid states, psychosis, coma, changes in the brains activity which can cause seizures, damage to the heartand death. Risks are increased if used with alcohol or other drugs.

    How are they sold?

    With the introduction of the Psychoactive Substance Misuse Act 2016 these products are illegal to buy. But let's not be naive, like other illegal drugs they still available on the streets, from dealers or other means. NPS Labelled as research chemicals, plant food, bath crystals or pond cleaner generally carry the warning ‘not for human consumption’.

    NPS which are purchased and then sold or given to friends can be considered 'dealing' and could result in a criminal record. If the police find a person in possession of a powder, crystal, pill, synthetic cannabanoids or any other substance that they can’t identify and they believe it is for the intention of changing the way the person thinks, feels and behaves then they risk being arrested.

    Why take them?

    Mistaken belief that ‘legal highs’ [NPS] are safe.

    Some people might take NPS as part of a night out to fit in with their friends or to increases their popularity or they might be naturally curious and want to experiment with different experiences looking for excitement and the thrill of risk taking. For some it’s to be rebellious, perhaps for a short-lived boost to their self-esteem, an escape to ease the ordeal and upset of unhappy relationships or the physical and emotional abuse in their home lives. Unfortunately, taking NPS for any reason can bring added consequences that they then have to deal with.

    Help, what can I do?

    Addiction problems can often start in adolescence when areas of the brain relating to impulse and motivation aren’t fully developed. However, lots of young people will only experiment with taking drugs and generally only for a relatively short time, that’s if they try them at all. Taking NPS doesn’t automatically mean that it will lead to someone becoming addicted or that if they are taking a drug you’re a bad parent. What does matter is how you handle it and how best you are able to communicate your concerns.

    There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach or script when having a discussion about NPS but here are some suggestions you might like to consider:

    • Stay calm
      It might feel tough that you’re the one that needs to talk to a person about NPS and other drugs.  Getting irate or upset can hinder the chance of an open and honest discussion.  Pick your moment, preferably when they and you, are feeling calm and not when they’ve arranged to go out or have friends round.

    Bear in mind that there’s a chance that you might not be listened to, not because of what you’re saying, but because of what’s perceived to be your motivation for saying it.

    • Don’t try to be an expert
      When talking about NPS it isn’t necessary to have a vast amount of knowledge about them, just a basic knowledge will be sufficient to demonstrate your understanding of what it is that they’re taking. 

    Prepare to focus on being open minded and not to judge, for them to feel that they know more than you could possibly imagine.  If you’re asked a question but don’t know the answer, acknowledge that it’s a good question but one you hadn’t thought of and will try to find an answer to.

    • Avoid scare tactics
      Be honest, don’t exaggerate or play down the risks, stick to the facts.  People often want to focus on death when talking about drugs, however most young people’s view is that only old or very ill people die. Consider discussing the possible effects on their life if their health were to be affected by taking a NPS.  Let them know that your main concern is for their safety

    It might help to print the young persons leaflet (click here) from our site. Or any other site that gives factual information about NPS eg.

    • Listen, let them talk too
      Their opinions might not be the same as yours but it will show willingness and understanding on your part if you’re prepared to listen and not jump in with your own opinion and assumptions every time you disagree.  Try not to be shocked or angry if they make wild statements and deliberately try to provoke a response from you, or equally if they’re completely honest and up front about taking a NPS or other drug.

    Rather than making a statement try sharing your knowledge by asking open questions, questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no - these often begin with ‘wh’ like why, where, who?  To help promote conversation it’s best to avoid closed questions - like “are you, do you, were you?”

    • Making an informed choice
      You’ve stayed calm, shared your knowledge, asked questions, listened, been patient and given reassurance and shown love and caring.  You know they now have the knowledge to make their decision an informed one.

    All that’s left to do now, is to offer to be there to talk to when they have any worries or concerns from this conversation or any others.

    If despite all of the above you feel that you’ve not been listened to, don’t despair, without you or they realising you may well have laid the foundations for them to question their decision making process.

    Where can we get more help and support? click here 



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