29 May 2015

Legal highs: government announces crackdown

Sales of laughing gas and other legal highs will be banned under new government plans.

A blanket ban on the sale of legal highs has been outlined in a bill published today as part of a government crackdown on psychoactive substances.

Under the proposed legislation it will be a criminal offence to sell nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, and other legal highs. Those prosecuted could face up to seven years in prison.

This is the latest move by the Home Office to clamp down on legal highs and ministers have also announced that police will be given powers to shut down websites that sell them.

What are legal highs?

Legal highs are chemical substances which contain one or more substance which produces a similar effect to illegal drugs. They are often sold as incense, bath salts or plant food to get around the current law, as they cannot be sold for human consumption.

Here are just a few of the legal highs that will soon be illegal under the new laws:

Laughing gas or “hippy crack” is the second most popular recreational drug in Britain with some 400,000 16 to 24 year olds reporting to have taken it in the last year. The drug is commonly inhaled through balloons, and users feel temporarily euphoric and relaxed.

Clockwork Orange, Spice and Exodus Damnation are also popular legal highs. They contain synthetic cannabinoids which are chemicals that replicate the active part of cannabis, known as THC. There are a number of different synthetic cannabinoids, some of which the government has already made illegal, resulting in new variants of these legal highs which are usually sold as “herbal” mixtures under different names.

Poppers, also known as TNT, are in the form of a liquid chemical that is sold in small bottles as room odourisers. It contains amyl nitrite which dilates the blood vessels allowing more blood to get to the heart. This gives users a short, sharp head-rush like “high”. Nitrates are often given to people who suffer from the heart condition angina.

Salvia Divinorum, also known as salvia or sage, is a powerful hallucinogenic drug which has been linked to psychotic episodes. It is derived from a Mexican plant and is often sold as herbal high

What’s in the bill?

The psychoactive substances bill will make it illegal to produce, distribute, sell or supply legal highs, which are officially known as new psychoactive substances (NPS).

The ban applies to anyone trading products intended for human consumption which have a mind-altering effect, apart from alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, food and medical products.

Controlled drugs which are already covered by an older legislation will also be excluded.

The ban will be extended across the UK and authorities will be given powers to seize and destroy substances as well as search people, cars and premises’.

Why is it being introduced?

Under the current system substances have to be assessed individually before they can be banned. The process can be laborious and manufacturers often produce new versions of a drug before the government has outlawed it.

Figures from the European Commission show that two NPS were identified in Europe every week in the last year. It is estimated that ‘legal highs’ are available to buy on around 700 websites worldwide, 140 of which are in the UK.

In 2013, there were 120 deaths involving NPS in England, Scotland and Wales. Although deaths linked to the substances are rare, experts warn that they could be potentially dangerous.