31 May 2016

Drug Addiction to Legal Highs Could Result in Violence on the Streets

Although drug addiction is commonly associated with illegal substances such as heroin and cocaine, legal highs continue to be a problem despite the recent Government ban on these substances. Just last week (May 26th), the Psychoactive Substance Ban 2016 came into force, but experts are warning that the ban is going to cause a ‘new crisis on the streets’.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Those who have developed an addiction to legal highs are often living on the streets, with many of these users saying that when they try to quit, they feel out of control or violent. With reduced availability because of the ban, experts are predicting that there will be many more individuals withdrawing from legal highs in the coming weeks, resulting in violence on the streets.

There are also stark warnings that the sale of ‘legal highs’ has simply moved underground and that criminal gangs are set to benefit by selling the drugs on the black market. The legal high market is a lucrative market with many people suffering from drug addiction to substances such as Spice, which is a synthetic cannabinoid that has been described as one of the most lethal drugs on the market.


Professor David Nutt, who previously worked as the Government’s drugs tsar, has said that the ban was ‘pathologically negative and thoughtless’. He also said that this strategy was intended to reduce the use of legal highs but did not tackle the problem of reducing harm. He said, “People who work in head shops aren’t interested in killing people. They want people to come back … the black market doesn’t care about anything other than making a profit.”

The fact that ‘legal highs’ have been readily available for so long in head shops and online means that many youngsters have already developed an addiction to the drugs. Now that these substances are banned, people will begin looking elsewhere for them; and drug dealers will have an entirely new market from which to profit.

One of the most significant issues with psychoactive substances is that they are entirely manmade, and many are cut with other substances such as crystal meth, which can have devastating side effects. Others are cut with harmful chemicals that can cause serious health risks and even death. Experts are warning that some of these drugs can cause seizures and comas. With the market moving underground, there will be even less regard for the safety of those who take them as the primary focus will be on making as much profit as possible.

Netherlands Example

Drugs experts are calling for the Government to look to the Netherlands as an example because cannabis is legal in that country. This means that there is almost no demand for synthetic cannabinoids. Steve Rolles from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation said, “In the Netherlands, there is no market for synthetic cannabis, none. No one buys it, because why would you if you can buy cannabis?”

Here in the UK, the sale of psychoactive drugs continues, with dealers of heroin and crack cocaine now providing the formerly ‘legal highs’ to those who want them. Nevertheless, legal high addicts have said that the drug dealers have not filled the gap left by the ban – yet.

In Manchester alone, there have been nine incidents where Spice users have collapsed on the streets in the past few days. Users have claimed that those who collapsed had taken a locally made version of the drug, called Annihilation. Wesley Dove, a former Spice user, said, “We’re concerned that the unregulated black market has moved in already. Dealers of class A drugs are starting to take over the legal highs market. But until their supply chains are established, some people who sold these drugs when they were legal, have begun making their own versions.”

Addictive Drugs

Young people across the country have been fooled into thinking that new psychoactive substances (NPS) or legal highs as they were formerly known, were safe to take as they were dubbed as ‘legal’. Unfortunately, the only reason they were legal was that they had yet to be added to the Misuse of Drugs Act. Sadly, these highly addictive drugs have been readily available, and the trade has grown rapidly since 2008.

Drug addiction to NPS has been a growing problem, and Public Health England figures show that there was a 176 per cent increase in the number of young people treated for addiction in 2014/2015 compared to 2013/2014.

With so many individuals struggling with drug addiction to these substances, there is a worry that the black market supply will flourish, and that criminal gangs will be in the perfect position to prosper. Many have already been bulk-buying stocks from head shops at heavily discounted prices as these stores looked to get rid of their supplies before the ban came into force.

Medical Issues

Experts are now also worried that it will be harder for medics to treat those who have adverse reactions to the drugs. Dove said, “When the drug was legal, the ingredients were printed on the back of the packet so if people collapsed paramedics would at least know what they had taken, but now nobody knows what’s in the stuff they’re buying. It’s completely unregulated now. I think this drug is just going to get more dangerous, and I suspect we’ll see even more people being rushed to hospital after collapsing.”

The effectiveness of the ban will not be known for some time, but many are worried that there will be violence on the streets with so many people withdrawing from their drug addiction as they are unable to find new suppliers. There is also fear that these addicts will simply move on to other illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine.


  1. The Guardian

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