Legal High Addiction – Information and Help in the UK

In the last decade or so, we have seen an alarming rise in synthetic drugs known professionally as new psychoactive substances. These drugs are also known as ‘legal highs’ due to their uncertain standing in the eyes of the law. At any rate, the growing popularity of these drugs is causing a commensurate increase in legal high addiction. The more people use these drugs, the more organisations like ours find ourselves helping addicts trying to break free from them.

As you read through this post, you will learn what legal highs are, why they are addictive, the types of damage they can do, and how to recover from addiction. Keep in mind one thing as you read: our primary mission as a referral service is to help those suffering from drug abuse or addiction by connecting them with treatment programmes and facilities waiting to help. All of our services are absolutely free to clients. If you are struggling at all with legal highs, we want to help you.

Legal Highs Defined

A legal high is a synthetic drug capable of altering mental activity yet still technically legal to sell as long as it is not intended for human consumption. This is very shaky legal ground, which is why head shops and others who sell the drugs market them as either plant food or bath salts. They protect themselves against liability by pointing out that their packaging specifically indicates the ‘intended’ use of the substances.

Some examples of the most commonly used legal highs include the synthetic cannabis product known as Spice, an herbal incense known as Clockwork Orange, and common nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas). Other drugs that might be used as over-the-counter treatments – like etizolam – are also classified as legal highs in some cases.

Fortunately, the government has started to recognise how serious legal high addiction is becoming in the UK. Legislation known as the Psychoactive Substances Act went into force early in 2016 with the intent of curbing the sale of these drugs. Still, the government will be challenged to enforce the legislation by the stark reality that dozens of new synthetic drugs are being introduced to the market every week. At this point, it is nearly impossible to keep up.

Dangers of Legal High Addiction

An addiction to any drug is a serious and potentially life-threatening situation. When you are talking about alcohol or Spice, addiction is capable of completely devastating the lives of abusers and their families. But legal high addiction is especially dangerous for a couple of reasons.

First, users of these drugs tend to mistakenly believe these are not as dangerous as illicit drugs because they can be purchased legally online or in head shops. Even with the new legislation cracking down on sales, new products will emerge in the months and years ahead, products that users are convinced are largely harmless. The problem is this: when users think they cannot be hurt by the drugs they take they are exponentially more likely to become addicted.

The second danger of legal high addiction is that the newness of these drugs makes it virtually impossible to predict any long-term consequences of using them. It will be another 10 to 20 years of study before we fully understand the consequences of using legal high substances that have already been around for years.

Finally, overdosing as a result of addiction can be immediately life-threatening. Even getting the addict to a hospital does not necessarily guarantee a favourable outcome. The problem is that doctors do not know exactly what is in these drugs. They are left to guess in the hope that the treatment they administer will save a life. Sometimes it does, other times it does not.

According to statistics from Public Health England, the number of young people under the age of 18 using legal high substances increased some 176% in 2015. Young adults over the age of 18 are also using these drugs in greater numbers. One of the obvious results is that rehab centres are seeing more and more cases of legal high addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

How can you tell if a family member or friend is addicted to a legal high? How do you know if you have a problem that needs treatment? Like all drug addictions, there are signs and symptoms you can look for that would indicate a person is abusing or addicted to a legal high. The only caveat here is that some of the signs and symptoms are specific to the drugs being taken. With hundreds of legal highs to choose from, symptoms can vary widely.

In a general sense, a person addicted to a legal high may exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Mood swings that can include anxiety and depression
  • Psychosis (paranoia, hallucinations, schizophrenia, etc.)
  • Noticeable changes in sleep patterns
  • Noticeable changes in overall health
  • A lack of concern about personal appearance
  • A reduced sense of personal responsibility
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Unexplained financial problems
  • Increased isolation from family
  • A noticeable change in social circles.

People addicted to legal highs tend to go through very distinct personality changes as their addictions progress. This is primarily due to the fact that psychoactive substances alter the way the brain functions. By interrupting certain brain chemicals, these drugs change the way people think and understand the world around them. This can lead to emotional changes that have a very definite impact on personality.

Treatment for Legal Highs

Getting treatment for a legal high addiction follows the same basic process as any other drug. The treatments themselves may be different, depending on the drug or drugs an addict is using. It is for this reason that we strongly recommend legal high users do not attempt to simply quit using on their own. The withdrawal symptoms associated with some of these drugs can be potentially life-threatening.

The first step in getting treatment is contacting an organisation like ours and asking for help. We offer a 24-hour helpline staffed by trained counsellors who use a scientific, step-by-step process to help evaluate the seriousness of the client’s problem. We can offer you a free assessment if you are willing to contact us.

Should the seriousness of your drug problem dictate residential treatment at a private facility, we can provide a list of appropriate facilities for you to choose from. Please note that your treatment will begin with a medically supervised detox period followed by at least several weeks of psychotherapeutic treatments.

You should understand that overcoming a legal high addiction is a slow and methodical process that takes time. You did not develop your addiction overnight; you will not be able to conquer it overnight. But with medical treatment and the right kind of support, you can go on to enjoy a substance-free life.

Consequences of Addiction

In closing, we want to make it clear what could happen if you decide not to seek treatment for legal high addiction. First, let’s discuss the potential legal problems. The new legislation just implemented could mean a prison term of up to seven years if you are caught with legal high substances and the authorities have a suspicion that you intended to give them to someone else. If you were found to be a dealer or manufacturer, you could be looking at a longer jail term.

Above and beyond the legal consequences, stop and consider what psychoactive substances are doing to your health. Some of these drugs can do long-term damage to your heart and central nervous system while others can harm your liver, kidneys, pancreas, etc. Then there are the psychological impacts to think about.

Imagine developing permanent psychosis as a result of using a synthetic drug. This is no laughing matter. Spending the rest of your life as a paranoid schizophrenic with a tendency toward hallucinations and delusions is no way to live.

The longer you continue taking drugs, the more susceptible you are to permanent physical and mental health damage. You are also susceptible to the loss of your spouse and children, financial ruin, increased isolation, and a life of crime as you seek to support your habit without any regular income.

Legal high addiction is very real in the UK. If you are using Spice, Clockwork Orange or any other new psychoactive substance allegedly sold as bath salts or plant food, you are jeopardising your health and life. Now is the time to make the decision to get some help. With one phone call to our 24-hour helpline, you could be well on your way to a treatment programme that will enable you to kick your habit.


  1. Legal highs: Spice addiction ‘made me punch myself’ (BBC)