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Legal Highs

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), or “Legal Highs” as you may know them as, were previously not always legal, have never been tested or researched and should never be considered safe for human consumption.  The ones that were not illegal yet simply had not been researched by scientists enough to add them to the list of banned drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.  Around 20% of the NPS that police seize across the country test positive for one or more illegal drugs so even prior to the advent of the new Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 you could not be sure what’s in the packet was actually legal for you to buy or possess.

When tested in a lab the NPS that did not contain an illegal drug in them turned out to be one or more chemical substances which are almost identical to the illegal drug they are meant to mimic, but with very slight differences in their chemical structure which previously meant that they were no longer illegal, but were just as dangerous.  Often the slight change made the substance even more dangerous than the illegal version and in some cases this proved fatal.  Even when we tested different packets of the same brand we often found that what was inside was not always the same so you never actually knew what you are getting from one packet to the next: what was fine one time may have killed you the next.  Mixing NPS with alcohol or other substances is very dangerous and we have seen numerous deaths across the country as a result.

Even prior to the new legislation NPS could not be sold or supplied for human consumption so they were often sold as things like incense, salts, research pellets or plant food to get round the law.  Because of that if someone sold or supplied NPS, even if it was simply sharing it with a friend, gave instructions or advice on how to take it or simply had knowledge that they were going to consume it in some way, they were breaking the law.  Depending on the circumstances they could be charged and potentially face going to prison.


Psychoactive Substances Act 2016

The Psychoactive Substances Act received Royal Assent on 28 January 2016. The act applies across the UK and came into force on 26 May 2016.

The act:

  • makes it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, possess on custodial premises, import or export psychoactive substances; that is, any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect. The maximum sentence will be 7 years’ imprisonment

  • excludes legitimate substances, such as food, alcohol, tobacco, nicotine, caffeine and medical products from the scope of the offence, as well as controlled drugs, which continue to be regulated by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

  • exempts healthcare activities and approved scientific research from the offences under the act on the basis that persons engaged in such activities have a legitimate need to use psychoactive substances in their work

  • includes provision for civil sanctions – prohibition notices, premises notices, prohibition orders and premises orders (breach of the 2 orders will be a criminal offence) – to enable the police and local authorities to adopt a graded response to the supply of psychoactive substances in appropriate cases

  • provides powers to stop and search persons, vehicles and vessels, enter and search premises in accordance with a warrant, and to seize and destroy psychoactive substances

Whilst the legislation does not criminalise an individual possessing NPS for their own consumption it would still be seized by police for their own safety and would need to be tested to check for any illegal substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 due to the fact that it is impossible to tell just by looking at a substance what is in it.  Individuals could also fall foul of the legislation if they shared their NPS with another person knowing that they were going to consume it as that would be considered supplying an NPS which is an offence under the new legislation.  If an individual was in possession of such an amount that it gave an officer suspicion that they were intending to supply it to others then this would also be an offence.


Keep safe and look out for your friends - if someone you know is taking NPS make sure they know the facts. If you find someone has taken ill or collapsed from taking NPS do not wait to see if they get better themselves or give them anything else to try to counteract the effects of what they have taken - you should always phone 999 immediately and request an ambulance; you might just save their life. 

If you have any information about NPS you can speak with PC MacDonald about it or use the email link below.

External Link Email PC MacDonald
External Link Choices For Life
External Link Know the Score
External Link Talk to Frank
External Link Angelus Foundation