Risks and Effects

How they work

The chemical compounds of  ‘legal highs’ - NPS are rapidly appearing in more refined forms with insufficient scientific literature available for there to be a proper understanding of their nature and effects, including long term effects.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for health professionals and clinicians to carry out accurate assessments of possible drug-related medical and psychiatric consequences of such use.

There is a serious misconception that because these new psychoactive substances are marketed as legal alternatives to illicit drugs they are safe to take.  There are an increasing number of deaths and other health consequences faced by those taking them, resulting in some referring to them as ‘lethal highs’.  Once tested some ‘legal highs’ have been found to contain at least one if not more illegal substances. 

Unpredictability
‘Legal highs’ - NPS  are so new and more often than not untested, it is often the individual that is being experimented on without you knowing the potential risks.

  • Substances are often new with unknown ingredients which are changed without anyone being aware.

  • Everyone reacts differently to chemicals which makes the effect different from person to person.

  • Tolerance levels vary from person to person; overdosing can result in death, but how can someone be sure what is a safe amount to take?  

  • Sold as a  ‘Legal highs’ - NPS often contain substances that are illegal leaving someone unknowingly breaking the law and risking prosecution.

  • ‘Legal highs’ - NPS can cause serious problems to mental health such as hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, mood swings.

  • Risks of legal highs can include reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, coma, seizures and death.

  • As with most other substances, risks are increased if used with alcohol or other drugs.

Considering the effects of the three main categories of ‘legal highs’ - NPS:

Stimulant ‘legal highs’ mimic drugs like speed, cocaine, or ecstasy and give a powerful rush as they work on the nervous system and increase heart rate and blood pressure.  The user may feel euphoric, energised, talkative and physically active.  

Use of stimulants can increase the risk of a heart attack as well as create feelings of anxiety, panic, paranoia, depression, confusion with some also known to cause psychosis. 

Regular use can lead to dependency and taking other drugs to counteract the side effects can cause additional issues and risks.

Depressant, downer or sedative ‘legal highs’ - NPS work similar to drugs like diazepam or Valium, cannabis or GHB, GBL, in the opposite way to stimulants, depressants slow the nervous system generally relieving tension and anxiety by inducing drowsiness and a feeling of calm and positivity. Causing unsteadiness, lethargy and forgetfulness risking unconsciousness, coma and death; with higher risk when mixed with other depressant drugs like alcohol. 

Physically and psychologically highly addictive, withdrawal can be severe for heavy users who will often require medical treatment.

Psychedelic or hallucinogenic ‘legal highs’ are synthetic forms of drugs like LSD, magic mushrooms and ketamine and alter perceptions causing hallucinations - seeing and hearing things that are not there, causing the user to feel detached from their surroundings and sometimes the feeling that the mind and body are separated. 

Impaired judgement and erratic behaviour puts the user at risk of danger and accidents whilst high. 

Many of the effects can be similar between all three categories of ‘legal highs’ but the strengths can be vastly different.

 

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