Written by: Lee Spinks
Medically Reviewed by: Dr Mateen Durrani – MBBS, DPM, MSc, BCPsych
Last Updated: December 12th, 2022
Any regular viewer of the UK news over the past couple of years will have seen the terrible damage that legal-highs are doing on the streets of towns and cities across the country. Addiction to legal-high drugs can ruin lives and is creating a rapidly growing social crisis. However, if you are addicted to a legal-high (also called new psychoactive substances- NSPs), it is not too late to turn your life around.
On this page, we will explain what legal-highs are, how they are abused and why people become addicted. We will also discuss the health effects and the negative impact of addiction on life, as well as the signs of addiction to look out for in yourself and others.
What are legal-highs?
Legal-highs are substances that are designed to produce similar effects to illegal drugs. Often, they are marketed as plant food, incense or bath salts and sold in head shops or online. Depending on the type of substance, they can be smoked, swallowed, snorted or injected.
The term ‘legal-high’ refers to the fact that these substances were not previously illegal. However, in 2016, the UK passed the Psychoactive Substances Act, which made it illegal to produce, supply or import any psychoactive substance unless it is exempt (for example, alcohol, tobacco and caffeine).
For this reason, the term’ legal-high’ has now been replaced with “new psychoactive substances” (NSPs). Some of the most common NSPs are:
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While these are the most popularly abused legal-highs, there are also various other commonly used stimulants, tranquilisers and hallucinogens, as well as alternative synthetic cannabinoids.
Why do people start using legal-highs?
People use legal-highs for many of the same reasons they use illegal drugs:
- To experience the pleasurable short-term effects.
- To fit in with their friends.
- To cope with difficult life circumstances such as stress, anxiety or depression.
- To self-medicate for a mental health disorder.
How does legal-high addiction develop?
Absolutely. People can develop an addiction to legal-highs in many ways. Some people start using recreationally and then find that they cannot stop, while others may begin using NPSs to self-medicate for a mental health disorder and then find themselves unable to control their use.
Using legal-highs excessively over a prolonged period of time usually leads to increased tolerance. This means that you need to take more of the substance to get the same effects. As you take more, you can then develop a dependence where you feel like you need the drug to function normally.
Once someone is dependent on NPSs, they are at a high risk of developing an addiction. This is because they will keep using the drugs despite the negative consequences.
What are the health effects of legal-highs?
The health effects of legal-highs will vary depending on the specific substance being used. However, in general, they can be extremely harmful and even life-threatening.
Some of the short-term health effects of NPSs include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
- Nausea and vomiting
- Organ damage
People who inject legal-highs are at a higher risk of developing an addiction because the effects are more immediate and intense. This route of administration also carries a higher risk of overdose and other health complications such as abscesses, cellulitis and blood-borne viruses.
Because of the relative nascence of NSPs and the lack of research into their effects, the long-term consequences of addiction to many legal-highs remain unknown. Many doctors fear that in years to come, we will see a wave of unforeseen health problems resulting from the consumption of these untested substances.
Already the NHS is admitting dozens of people each week for mental health issues related to the consumption of NSPs which appear to trigger psychosis, paranoia, anxiety disorder, stimulant-induced psychotic disorder, schizophrenia and major depressive disorder. Likewise, Primrose Lodge has seen an increasing number of people seeking rehab treatment for legal-high addiction, which shows how important it is that effective solutions are identified to address the problem.
Life consequences of legal-high addiction
Aside from the health impact, the abuse of NPSs can have a catastrophic impact on other aspects of your life. This includes:
- Financial consequences – This is due to both the cost of the drugs themselves, and the effect addiction can have on your professional life.
- Problems with work and education – Many people who develop an addiction to legal-highs will start to struggle in their studies or at work. This is because the drugs can interfere with your ability to concentrate, remember things and make decisions.
- Relationship difficulties – The impact of addiction on your life can put a strain on even the strongest relationships. You may start to distance yourself from friends and family or become more aggressive and irritable.
- Legal problems – The possession, supply and production of NPSs are all illegal in the UK. This means that if you are caught with them, you could face a prison sentence.
Legal-high addiction in the UK
Prior to the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act, NPSs were sold over the counter in many shops as well as being available over the internet, from stalls and by mail order. There was little or no control over their distribution and consumption, other than that their sale to under 18’s was prohibited.
Following rising concern over the health impact of some of these drugs, and several high-profile deaths, the government cracked down on this burgeoning market. However, many NPSs had already established themselves as drugs of choice for many users, and today there is a significant black market for NPSs.
Do I have an legal-high addiction?
Addiction can be very elusive and deceptive and will try to convince you that everything is under control. If you are worried that you or someone close to you may have developed an addiction to NPSs, here are some questions that may help spot the signs of addiction:
- Do I spend a lot of time thinking about using legal-highs?
- Have I lied to my loved ones about my use of NPSs?
- Do I feel like I need to use them in order to have fun or relax?
- Am I continuing to use them despite these negative consequences?
- Do I use them more often or in greater quantities than I intended to?
- Do I feel like I need to keep using legal-highs in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms?
- Have there been negative consequences as a result of my use, such as problems with work, school or relationships?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, it’s possible that you have a legal-high addiction. Get in touch with Primrose Lodge today, and we can explain the different treatment options available to you.
Legal-high advice for loved ones
If you are worried about someone close to you who may be addicted to NPSs, it is very important that you don’t enable their addiction. This means not buying them drugs, giving them money or making excuses for their behaviour. This may be difficult, but it is important to remember that enabling their addiction will only make it worse.
You should also try to encourage them to seek professional help. This can be done by gently expressing your concerns and letting them know that you are there for them. You can show them this page or help them to contact a specialist rehab like Primrose Lodge. This will show them that you are supportive and want to help them overcome their addiction.
Can legal-high addiction be cured?
Addiction cannot be ‘cured’; it is a chronic and relapsing illness, which means that it can be managed but not cured. However, with the right treatment and support, it is possible to live a healthy and fulfilling life in recovery.
At Primrose Lodge, we offer a range of rehab therapies and treatments that are designed to help you overcome your addiction and rebuild your life. We offer both legal-high detox and legal-high rehab treatment, alongside our excellent aftercare package.
If you are worried about your own or someone else’s legal-high addiction, please get in touch with us today. We can provide you with the information and support you need to overcome this difficult time.
Myths about legal-highs
Legal-highs are not as potent as traditional drugs…
False! Many legal-highs are actually more potent than traditional drugs. This means that they are more likely to lead to addiction and other health problems.
Legal-high addiction is not as serious as addiction to other drugs…
False! Legal-highs can be just as addictive as traditional drugs, and the consequences of addiction can be just as severe.
Treatment for legal-high addiction is not effective…
False! There are many effective treatments available for legal-high addiction. At Primrose Lodge, we offer a range of evidence-based treatments that have helped many people to overcome their addiction and rebuild their lives.