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Are Legal Highs Worse Than Illegal Highs?

December 1, 2013 · Zoe Mumba

Recently, there has been a lot in the papers regarding legal highs which are now not just available in head shops, but can also be purchased online and have reports have suggested that in some Northern towns they are becoming increasingly available in petrol stations and fast food outlets.  However, the primary reason legal highs have been making the papers is because they have been cited as the main causes of some youths deaths in the UK.

It was only last week that the mother of Jimmy Guichard released a photo of him on his hospital bed before his life support machine was switched off. Guichard was found unconscious after suffering a heart attack and brain damage with an empty packet of a legal high by his side.

The European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction has reported that there are around 300 new psychoactive substances on the market, and around 73 were created in 2012 alone. However, these legal highs are not legal in the UK because they are safe, they are legal in the UK because not enough research has been conducted on them to determine their effects and how dangerous they may or not be. 

What interests me about the increase in the amount of legal substances being created is what makes people want to take them, and if this could potentially have any implications on the current drugs laws in the UK.

I spoke to one Loughborough student who admitted to taking both legal and illegal drugs recreationally and says that salvia, which is a legal drug, ”was the most fucked up one. What I saw was real in my trip… like my eyes actually saw shit not an intrinsic tingly trip or weird thought.  I was an avatar with an xbox controlling the heart of the jungle pumping blood through it.” When I asked why he thought people went for legal highs he said “because they are legal.. At the time I did it when I was 16, and I wanted to know it was legal and therefore safe’’.

A female student at Loughborough told me that she whilst she has taken illegal drugs such as cannabis, MDMA and cocaine recreationally, she has only taken a legal high once. When I asked her why she does not take legal highs she said “the reason I won’t take legal highs is because they’re not properly tested, and this is why they’re still legal. I would rather take a drug that has been tested, and I know what the risks are, rather than something which is only legal because there has not yet been thorough research done into its effects.”

This echoes something another female student at Loughborough told me, the said student told me that she had taken a variety of drugs recreationally which include cannabis, mushrooms, MKAT, MDMA and cocaine but has never taken legal highs because “illegal highs have been around for years and there are studies about them you can read and there are forums that offer advice on how to say stay safe on illegal drugs”.

The reason why some people prefer illegal highs to legal highs is clear: they have been around longer and thus there is more research.  However, what intrigues me is what drives people to try them in the first place; the female student above told me “it was a simple case of curiosity. The first one I tried was weed when I was 18, and then I ended up trying more. I guess I wanted to experience as much as possible”. Perhaps this is key when looking at legal and illegal highs, they attract similar people who are looking for a rush. However, perhaps some opt for the legal highs believing they are safer due to their legal status with the added bonus of them being cheaper and available in shops as opposed to having to obtain them through drug dealers.

Whilst all the students above I have spoken to believe themselves to be in good health, the second female student did admit that “emotionally, I don’t feel happiness the same way. The happiness I feel when I am sober since I have tried drugs does not compare to the once I have experienced on drugs”.  One postgraduate student at Loughborough told me a more harrowing story where one of his former friends has been permanently affected by the drug methadone (its street name is Meth or Meow Meow) and is now “aggressive” and “can’t speak properly”.

The general belief amongst the students I spoke to though is that some of the illegal drugs they had tried are relatively safe in controlled doses and trusted them more than legal highs. Some would argue that the fact that people are continuing to take drugs both legal and illegal is a sign the government should review its stance on drugs, especially since countries like Amsterdam and Portugal have decriminalised some drugs and have lower drug abuse rates.

However, even if the UK was to review its drugs laws, how would we integrate drugs into a society which does things to excess in regards to things such as alcohol and food. Is legalisation really the way forward or would it create even more problems?

Regardless, with two thirds of the UK in favour of cannabis being legalised and ever more forums and websites popping up offering insights and advice on drugs, it seems that for those who want to try drugs it is simple a case of there being where there’s a will there’s a way, regardless of the legal status of drug or the consequences they could have.

Zoe Mumba

Zoe Mumba

Executive Features Editor
Zoe is former Executive Features Editor of The Epinal.
Zoe Mumba
Zoe Mumba

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Posted by on December 1, 2013. Filed under Features.
  • methawhat

    You’ve put methadone (opiate often used by recovering heroin addicts) when I think you mean mephedrone (mkat).