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Understanding NPS - Formally Known as 'Legal Highs'

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Posted on 27/09/19

NPS is still imposing negatively on young peoples lives. NPS stands for New Psychoactive Substances which are a group of drugs designed to bypass the former legislative controls of illegal drugs. They attempt to imitate the effects of illegal substances – stimulants, cannabis, depressants or hallucinogens – by either mimicking the pharmacological effects of a specific drug, or by subtly modifying the molecular structure of existing illegal drugs. They are known in the market by terms such as ‘legal highs’, ‘bath salts’, ‘plant food’, and ‘research chemicals’.

They are sold in different forms such as powders, pills, smoking mixtures, liquids, capsules, or on perforated tabs. The packaging is usually designed to get your attention using a catchy brand name and bright colours. It might describe a list of ingredients, but you can’t be sure that this is what’s inside.

The powders can range from white to brown to yellow in colour, and from flour-like to little crystals in consistency. The pills and capsules vary widely in size, shape and colour.

The smoking mixtures tend to come in colourful packaging, often with labels describing the contents as incense or herbal smoking mixture, and the contents look like dried herbs, vegetable matter or plant cuttings.

Although some of these so-called ‘legal highs’ were legal in the past, since the Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect in 2016, none of these drugs are legal to produce, supply or import for human consumption - even for personal use, e.g. over the internet.

This includes selling them or giving them away for free (even to friends) when they are going to be taken to get high.

New psychoactive substances might sound like an awkward term, but it’s more accurate than 'legal highs'. You’ll still hear people talking about legal highs, and as it’s a widely understood term you might still find it used on the internet, but they're all illegal.

The so-called legal highs that were made illegal as class A, B or C drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act, are still covered by that legislation. All other psychoactive substances not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act fall under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Tips for Parents

·      Start discussion early, and keep talking so it doesn’t suddenly come up as a big thing.

·      Find time to talk about all the big issues. Try to have family meals regularly: this is a crucial chance for parents and young people to talk. And that may include a discussion about drinking and drugs.

·      Find out what your child’s school is doing about alcohol and drug education. Can you help reinforce knowledge, skills and attitudes?

·      Remember: these drugs are now illegal thanks to the Psychoactive Substances Act. Make sure your child knows this and understands the legal consequences as well as the health risks of taking these drugs.


Sourced: Mentor UK, Talk to Frank, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

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