Legal highs’ are any psychoactive substances, compounds, plants, or fungi that are chemically related to classified controlled drugs of abuse, such as amphetamine, which mimic similar psychoactive effects to control drugs (Gibbons & Zloh, 2010). Currently, ‘legal highs’ referred to as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are either illegal to manufacture, supply and possess under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or still legal due to having slight chemical structural difference compared to controlled drugs, which make these substances to distinguish from others (Archer, 2009). The term ‘New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)’ does not mean newly invented as these substances were known since the 1950s, but these are newly misused substances of abuse that are not controlled by 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drug or the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances that can cause risk for the well-being and health of public (UNODC, 2014). In the early 1950s, most NPS belonged to the commonly known ‘Chemical families’ of phenethylamines (amphetamines, methamphetamines, ecstasy, peyote) and tryptamines (N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), psilocybin, 5-methoxy-N,N-imethyltryptamine (5-Meo-DMT)). However, recently wider ranges of ‘Chemical families’ were emerged and known in the market, such as synthetic cathinones (mephedrone, methylone, butylone, methedrone, flephdrone), cannabinoids (cannabis, ‘9 tetrahydrocannabinol), piperazines (1-benzylpiperazine (BZP)) and benzofurans (1-(benzofuran-5-yl)-propan-2-amine (5-APB), 1-(benzofuran-6-yl)-propan-2-amine (6-APB)) (EMCDDA, 2014). To date, around 384 different NPS have been reported to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC, 2014).
Legislative Issues with NPS
In the UK, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 classifies ‘Controlled Drugs’ into Class A, B and C according to the harmful effect they cause when they are misused. The Act clearly defines the identity of the substance according to the chemical structure (MEP, 2012). Thus, NPS have similar chemical structure to existing classified drugs, however to circumvent the legislation and make their sales valid they are synthesised purposely as analogue of the illegal drugs with a slight chemical structural difference to make them distinct. Nevertheless, because of the Misuse of Drug Act 1968, which govern and license medicines for human use, these substances are sold and advertised as ‘bath salts’, ‘plant feeder’, ‘research chemicals’ or ‘pond cleaner’, labelled in its package ‘not for human consumption’. However, it is has been found from open forums on internet survey (Archer, 2009) that these substances are intended for human consumption and are being sold in many night clubs as recreational drugs. They are easily purchased from internet websites, high street shops, night clubs and local drug suppliers (Baron, Elie & Elie, 2011). Since April 2010 many cathinone derivatives such as mephedrone, methedrone, methylone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) became Class B drugs and most recently from 10th of June 2014, ketamine also became Class B drugs (Statutory Instruments, 2014).
The Impact of Internet on The Emergence of NPS
Recently, the numbers of NPS marketed on internet have been increased dramatically to large numbers. As the result, in the last few years, there has been an increase in the sale and use of NPS in the high streets and night clubs. From the survey conducted …
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