Jayne Lawrence, chief scientist for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, has backed moves to outlaw ‘legal highs’ under the Psychoactive Substances Act, which comes into force on 26 May 2016, almost a year after it was proposed.
The act will make it an offence to produce, supply, or offer to supply any psychoactive substance if the substance is likely to be used for its psychoactive effects, regardless of its potential for harm.
“Legal highs are dangerous and potentially lethal,” says Lawrence. “You don’t know what you are buying, or how strong they might be, meaning harm and overdose are much more likely, especially when these chemicals are injected or combined with alcohol or drugs. Their impact on individuals in terms of illness and addiction can be severe, leading to poisoning, mental health problems, emergency hospital admissions and, in some cases, death.
“Now they are outlawed, the spurious term ‘legal high’ will no longer give a badge of legitimacy to them, or to those who sell them,” she adds.
The only exclusions from the act are those already controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act (nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and medicinal products) and “poppers” or alkyl nitrites. Individuals with a legitimate need to use psychoactive substances in their work, for example as part as healthcare activities or approved scientific research will also be exempt.
“Some individuals will continue to buy [psychoactive substances] regardless of the change in the law,” says Lawrence. “What is needed is better education and awareness around these chemicals, combined with accessible treatment and recovery services, in order to reduce their use and the harm they cause.”