New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)

Plant Food, NPS, MDAT, Eric 3, Dimethocaine, Bath Salts.

September 6, 2016



What are new psychoactive substances?

New psychoactive substances – often incorrectly called legal highs – contain one or more chemical substances which produce similar effects to illegal drugs (like cocainecannabis and ecstasy).

Although some of these so-called ‘legal highs’ have been legal in the past, many are currently illegal. And it’s important to realise that when the Psychoactive Substances Act comes into effect in spring 2016, none of these drugs will be legal to produce, supply, or import (even for personal use) for human consumption.

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 since it’s a widely understood term, you might still find it used on this site. But they’re all illegal when the new law comes into effect.

There’s not enough known about many of these drugs to know about their potency, their effects on people, or what happens when they’re used with other substances or alcohol’ The packaging might describe a list of ingredients but you can’t be sure that this is what’s inside.  So you can’t really be sure what you’ve bought or been given, or what effect it’s likely to have on you or your friends. Many NPS are sold under brand names like ‘Clockwork Orange’, ‘Bliss’, ‘Mary Jane’  and some have been linked to poisoning, emergency hospital admissions and, in some cases deaths.

The main effects of almost all psychoactive drugs, can be described using four main categories:

  • stimulants
  • ‘downers’ or sedatives
  • psychedelics or hallucinogens
  • synthetic cannabinoids



New psychoactive substances 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. It’s common for synthetic cannabinoids to be added to dried herbs, vegetable matter or plant cuttings to make a smoking mixture.



New psychoactive substances that come as powders, pills or capsules tend to be snorted or swallowed, while smoking mixtures are either smoked in a joint or spliff or by using a pipe.

There have been reports of some people injecting NPS. Injecting any drug is particularly dangerous because a drug is more likely to reach harmful or fatal levels by this route. Also, veins can be damaged by the injecting process and an abscess or blood clot may develop, which can then cause serious health problems like blood infection or heart problems.

Injecting can also lead to serious scarring and can be disabling or even fatal. Sharing injecting equipment such as needles or syringes, runs the additional risks of catching or spreading viruses such as HIV or hepatitis C. Side Effects


What are the effects of new psychoactive substances?

The main effects of almost all psychoactive drugs, including so-called legal highs, can be described using the four main categories below. While drugs in each of these categories will be similar in the effects they produce, they will have widely different strengths and effects on different people.

  • Stimulants (like mephedrone, naphyrone) act like amphetamines, cocaine, or ecstasy, in that they can make you feel energised, physically active, fast-thinking, very chatty and euphoric.
  • Downers or sedatives (like GBH/GBL, methoxetamine)  act similarly to benzodiazepines (drugs like diazepam or Valium), or GHB/GBL, in that they can make you feel euphoric, relaxed or sleepy.
  • Hallucinogens or psychedelics  (like NBOMe drugs)act like LSD, magic mushrooms, ketamine and methoxetamine. They create altered perceptions and can make you hallucinate (seeing and/or hearing things that aren’t there). They can induce feelings of euphoria, warmth, ‘enlightenment’ and being detached from the world around.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids (like Spice or Black Mamba): act similarly to cannabis. The effects of these are similar cannabis intoxication:  relaxation, altered consciousness, disinhibition, a state of being energised and euphoria.



What are the risks of new psychoactive substances?

You can’t really be sure of what’s in a ‘legal high’ that you’ve bought, or been given, or what effect it’s likely to have on you or your friends. For many NPS, there has been little or no research into the risks from human consumption. Will have widely different strengths and effects on different people.

Many of these risks are increased if the drug is combined with alcohol or with another psychoactive drug.  There have been cases of death too.

Drugs including ‘legal highs’ You can become addicted too.

  • Stimulant NPS can make you feel overconfident and disinhibited, induce feelings of anxiety, panic, confusion, paranoia, and even cause psychosis, which can lead you to put your own safety at risk.  This type of drugs can put a strain on your heart and nervous system. They may give your immune system a battering so you might get more colds, flu and sore throats. You may feel quite low for a while after you’ve stopped using them.
  • Downers or sedative NPS can reduce inhibitions and concentration, slow down your reactions and make you feel lethargic, forgetful or physically unsteady, placing you at risk of accidents.  This type of drugs can also cause unconsciousness, coma and death, particularly when mixed with alcohol and/or with other downer drugs.  Some people feel very anxious soon after they stop taking downers, and if a severe withdrawal syndrome develops in heavy drug users, it can be particularly dangerous and may need medical treatment.
  • Psychedelic or hallucinogenic NPS which act like LSD, magic mushrooms, ketamine and methoxetamine can cause confusion, panics and strong hallucinatory reactions (‘bad trips’), and their effects can make you behave erratically and put your own safety at serious risk – including from self-harm.   This can interfere with your judgement, which could put you at risk of acting carelessly or dangerously, and  of hurting yourself, particularly in an unsafe environment.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids could lead to severe or even life-threatening intoxication when taken in sufficiently larger doses. They can also affect your central nervous system, and lead to seizures, fast heart rates, high blood pressre, sweating, increased body temperature, being agitated and being combative (ready to fight).

Court Hammer


Although some of these so-called ‘legal highs’ were legal in the past, since the Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect  on 26 May 2016, none of these drugs are legal to produce, supply or import (even for personal use, e.g. over the internet) for human consumption.

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

The ‘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 currently covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act will fall under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Did you know?

Like drinking and driving, it’s illegal to drive if your driving has been impaired by taking drugs. With some drugs, you can even remain unfit to drive the next day. As well as this drug-impaired-driving offence, it’s now illegal in England and Wales to drive over set levels for any of 17 named drugs (legal and illegal) in your body, whether or not you are impaired. Very low limits have been set for some common illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and MDMA. You can get a heavy fine, be disqualified from driving or even go to prison. Check out the Think! website for more details.


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