UK ministers have recently refused to sign legislation proposed by the European Union Commission that include directives and regulations concerning legal high substances. Officials believe that the legislation would hinder the country’s law enforcement agencies from controlling the substances and interfere with crime prevention related to the problem. The European Union claims to possess evidence that suggests 20% of these substances have a legitimate use. However, the government disagrees.

Synthetic Substances and Loopholes

Despite the efforts of law enforcement and government organizations, synthetic substances remain available. Concerned with the many dangers associated with the substances, laws emerge that make possessing or selling specific chemical components of the products illegal. However, soon, chemists vary product recipes to include substances not covered by law. These new and improved legal high compounds reportedly arrive on the market at the rate of one or more weekly. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) estimates that there are approximately 200 different psychoactive chemicals available at any given time that fall beyond legal jurisdiction.

Loophole cartoon by Gary Brookins

‘Loophole’ cartoon by Gary Brookins

Sold in convenience stores and specialty shops, the compound packaging often displays a label warning against human consumption. Manufacturers use a number of ploys in attempts to sell the products legally. Though widely known to be used for recreational purposes, product labels commonly recommend using the substances as bath salts, incense or plant food. Others attempt to push their luck within the grey area revolving around marijuana seeds. While cannabis remains an illegal substance, the actual marijuana seeds (and other components of the plant which do not contain THC) are not specified in the Misuse of Drugs Act. The cultivation thereof however is not allowed, even though this doesn’t stop (international) seed banks to also reach out to UK customers.

Replicating Effects

Counterfeit drugs generally fall into one of three different categories: hallucinogens, sedatives or stimulants. Users purchase the products in hopes of replicating the effects experienced by taking illegal drugs like cannabis, cocaine or ecstasy. Depending on the particular substance taken, users experience a wide array of symptoms. Some compounds cause impaired judgment, which leads to potentially dangerous behaviors. Products containing stimulant inducing chemicals increase cardiovascular symptoms that may lead to heart attack, stroke or seizure activity. In 2012, 68 deaths were attributed to legal high substance abuse.