Young People

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

  • What are NPS?
  • What do they contain?
  • Are they safe?
  • Are 'legal highs' really legal?
  • Why take them? 
  • How can I say no?
  • Need help?

What are New Psychoactive Substance NPS [commonly called 'legal highs']?

NPS are illegal unknown chemicals which can change the way someone thinks feels or behaves. NPS are drugs which act mainly on the central nervous system and affects how the brain works it was thought to replicate the effects of other illegal drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy or cannabis. It is now known that the effects can be more devastating.

Most substances are powders - colours vary from white to brown to yellow and either the consistency of flour or tiny crystals, pills, capsules or pellets which range in size, shape and colour. Some are made to look like cannabis and look natural/herbal.
They were sold in brightly coloured packets looking like sweets, research shows that since the changes in the law, they also appear in clear packaging. They can be sniffed, chewed, smoked, brewed to drink or swallowed.

NPS can be recognised by their brand name, their chemical name or their slang name and they are usually sedative (calming), stimulant (energising) or hallucinogenic (see, hear or feel things that aren’t real).

What do they contain?

NPS are often described as research chemicals for example plant food, incense, pond cleaner, room odoriser, cream dispenser refills or bath salts. NPS pills, powders or synthetic cannabanoids are man-made chemicals which have been randomly pulled together

Packets generally have no ingredients listed and even if they do their contents are known to vary. The user becomes a guinea pig trialing them, not knowing the risks to their life or

Are they safe?

Risks of NPS include hallucinations, drowsiness, being more reckless - less self-control, excited or paranoid states, psychosis, coma, changes in the brains activity which can cause seizures, damage to the heart and death. Many NPS have been directly linked to emergency hospital admissions and, in some cases death.

Calling them ‘legal highs’ [the street name] can be misleading, misconception, a myth LEGAL DOES NOT = SAFE!

No-one can be sure what an NPS contains; you can’t be sure what’s a safe amount to take or use or what effect it’ll have, the reaction can vary from one person to another.

Taking any drug involves some risk but hardly any research has been done on NPS. They haven’t been approved to be taken by humans, that’s why there’s little information available about their short or long term effects.

Risk of permanent serious health problems like damage to the heart, other parts of the body, and death is increasing.

Some packets contain warnings:

These warnings don’t mean that they’re safe for over 18’s! Like any drug, legal or illegal, mixing with alcohol or other drugs increases the risks.

Are ‘legal highs’ really legal?

NO not since the introduction of the Psychoactive substance act 2016 they are now Illegal drugs.

Substances previously sold as ‘legal highs’ like mephedrone (‘mcat’, ‘meow meow’) GBL, BZP and smoking mixtures like ‘spice’ products (which imitate cannabis) are now illegal under the act to possess or supply to others. The maximum penalties are up to 7 years in prison.

Many of these substances have been considered to be responsible for a number of deaths.

The police can arrest you if you are caught in possession of, supplying or if they suspect the person is using NPS to change the way they thinks feels or behaves.

If you buy NPS and sell them to your friends this can be considered dealing and could result in a criminal record.

You can be fined, banned from driving or even go to prison if you drive while under the influence of drugs and that includes NPS. Sometimes, even the following day you might still be under the influence.

Schools and Universities are likely to involve the police if anyone if found with NPS as they are illegal drugs..

Why take them?

It appears that people are quick to trust products just because they’re sold as being 'legal', mistakenly believing that 'legal means safe' when in fact these NPS drugs are illegal.

Some young people are naturally curious and want to experiment with different experiences. For some drugs are a good conversation point, they are interesting to talk about and fascinate everyone but despite how it might sometimes be represented in the media, there are actually more young people that choose not to take either illegal drugs.

Some young people will use drugs as an escape to ease the ordeal and upset of unhappy relationships or the physical and emotional abuse in their home lives. More often than not this then brings added problems related to their drug use.

How can I say NO?

Peer pressure can have the biggest impact on people’s decisions to take drugs and take risks. Here are a few suggestions on how to stay cool with your friends and not take drugs:

* Be selective - Choose your friends carefully; hang around with people you have something in common with that isn’t about taking drugs. If they’re pressuring you to do something that just doesn’t feel right for you then they’re not the right friends for you. Keep in mind that most people pushing you to take drugs will already be taking them themselves and they’ll only tell you the good side of what they’re doing and not give you the real facts.

* Respect - It might be hard to actually say no but your self-esteem will improve if you stick to what instinctively you know is right, if your friends are genuine then they will respect you for it. Even if you don’t agree with some choices your friends make, if you respect their choice then there’s more chance that they’ll respect yours and they’ll not try and pressure you into doing stuff you don’t want to.

* Do something about it - There are times when you might feel able to stand up for someone else and it might help you feel stronger about your own decision.

* Distraction - Suggest doing something else, a game of footie, X-Box or chill out with a movie. If your mates are under the influence of drugs they might not realise just how forceful they’re being, but it might also make it easier for you to pretend to pop to the toilet then leave instead, or just fake that you’re taking something.

* Temptation - Sometimes the biggest pressure can come from ourselves, maybe stuff is going on at home or you have exams, changing school, starting University or a new job and you think that taking drugs will help you feel better and you’ll be more able to cope or more confident; the problem is that once you ‘come down’ from your ‘high’ things can often feel even worse than before. Is it really isn’t worth it?

Need help?

Most problems from the short-term use of NPS will settle down with a little time out, taking in fluids (not coffee or alcohol) and fresh air. Sometimes the negative effects might last a few days before they wear off just like they would from the drug they’re imitating like say cocaine.

If you have concerns about health once you’ve stopped taking NPS it would be a good idea to visit your doctor and explain what’s worrying you.

There are lots of organisations that can provide you with advice, information, support, harm reduction, counselling and many other services, if you or someone you know needs help with ‘legal highs’ or any other drugs

Try talking to your parents about your concerns, or click here to find some organisations you might find helpful.

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