Legal High Lies

It was terribly sad listening to the bother of a “legal high” victim on the radio this morning. The now banned N-Bomb LSD copycat drug had left his brother severely brain damaged and dependent on 24 hour care for the rest of his life.

Surely it is time to stop using the incredibly misleading term ‘legal high’ with its safe, non-addictive, not-bad-enough-to-be-banned connotations. It’s a lie. The internet is littered with websites selling untold numbers of chemical compounds, blithely labelled with seductive names and proclaimed as legal, ‘quality research chemicals and herbal incense’, getting away with it through a bold disclaimer of “STRICTLY NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION”.

To try and start classifying them is financially and logistically possible, even though the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform (clue is in the name) calls for the Utopian solution of the an introduction of a new category for psychoactive substances whereby their supply can be ‘regulated’ and a review of the government lead for drugs to ensure a health focus. Yeah right.

The first step from the government surely has to be to a serious focus on deterrence. Insist on accurate labeling such as ‘high risk unclassified highs’ in all commentary – because there is never, ever anyway of the public being sure what is in the psychoactive substance. Possession should automatically incur a significant fine – pills, powder, whatever – you are potentially endangering yours and others lives. It may be herbs and talc but life is too short to test everything – the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction identified 73 new substances in 2012 alone – and it sends a message of principle. It is ridiculous that they can have ‘not fit for human consumption’ on the packet as a legal requirement alongside names such as gogaine, spellweaver, charlie and e-scape.

The American example of “analogue” legislation which simply automatically bans any new substance that has a similar chemical structure to an already banned drug is worth considering but it can never keep pace with new products coming to market. There are hundreds if not thousands of labs in Asia where new synthetic drugs are synthesised to imitate the effects of existing legal drugs. We have to keep this simple, and act now, if we are to prevent more tragic episodes of injury and death.

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About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social pioneer, writer, campaigner and commentator. Formerly a clinical optometrist specialising in diabetes and visual impairment, she is the founder and Director of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal and Social. 2020health has through research, events and campaigning influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. In 2014, 2020health were founding partners of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Since 2016, 2020health has increasingly focused on digital health and public health in the community. Julia is a Fellow of the RSA and now also a part-time PhD student at the UCL Interaction Centre, studying the use of digital technology for stress management in the workplace. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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