New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) - Legal Highs

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), also sometimes referred to as ‘legal highs’, are not new drugs. NPS have become more popular, they are easier to access (via “headshops”, other local shops and online) and are cheaper than illegal substances, such as heroin.

NPS are not covered by the main UK law, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, although around one in five NPS contain an illegal substance. There is a ‘cat and mouse game’ between the UK government making laws trying to control access to and the legality of these substances and the chemists who know how to get round the loopholes.

There is an NPS to imitate every type of illegal drug. This means there is a synthetic legal version of cannabis, a synthetic legal version of heroin, a legal version of ecstasy and so on. NPS can be consumed in a number of ways, just like illegal drugs, namely injected, swallowed, smoked and snorted. Packets of NPS are brightly coloured with eye-catching names and images. The names and brands of NPS change due to demand and supply and there are too many to list here.

NPS are in the news a lot. Just because these drugs are legal, they are not safe. If you, or someone you know is taking an NPS do not be fooled to think it will be weak or less harmful than its illegal counterpart. This is simply not true!

For medical help call NHS 24 on 111
In a medical emergency call 999

Keep You and Your Friends Safe

  • NPS can be more active in smaller doses than traditional drugs
  • Stay with friends, do not leave a friend on their own if you are taking NPS
  • Mixing NPS with alcohol can be particularly harmful
  • Keep your packet in your pocket – this will help others know what you have taken
  • If you or a friend feel unwell be honest about the substance(s) you have taken
  • Packets of NPS are often labelled “Not for human consumption”  - this means they have not been tested for human use
  • Think about ways to practice safer sex - use condoms and lube

NPS can be Harmful to Your Health

There are numerous risks to your health:

  • Blood Borne Viruses such as Hepatitis C and HIV
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Organ damage
  • Reduced appetite
  • Rapid, unhealthy weight loss
  • Mental health issues
  • Insomnia
  • Unplanned pregnancies
  • Infections
  • Permanent tissue damage, permanent disfigurement
  • Death

There are many signs of distress caused by NPS, the most common are:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Chest pains
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures

Possible Consequences of NPS Use

  • NPS use can trigger violent, unpredictable and aggressive behaviour  
  • NPS can contain banned substances and can result in possession and supply offences
  • If you are found in possession of NPS, the substances can be taken and sent for testing (deemed a positive stop and search result for the police)
  • There are long-lasting repercussions of criminal records (e.g. inappropriate touching of a sexual nature can lead to you being placed on the sex offenders register, acts of aggression and violence can lead to anti-social behaviour orders )
  • Being under the influence of NPS can result in you losing your inhibitions and increase the likelihood of riskier behaviour e.g. problematic behaviour around traffic, impulsive behaviour

Keep Your Community Safe

  • Do not try to dispose of discarded needles yourself
  • Call your local council for advice on collecting discarded needles on public property
    • The City of Edinburgh Council 0131 200 2000
    • East Lothian Council 01620 827827
    • Mid Lothian Council 0131 270 7500
    • West Lothian Council  01506 280 000
  • Seek professional medical help immediately regarding any needle-stick injury
  • Call the police non-emergency number 101, or in an emergency 999, if you feel threatened
  • Driving under the influence of NPS is potentially dangerous to you and others

Getting Help and Recovery

  • Speak to your GP or a nurse about any concerns you may have about your own health or the health of a friend or relative
  • Always seek the professional help of a nurse for any wounds, lumps or bumps
  • Get regularly tested for Hepatitis C and HIV
  • There are no substitute drugs for anyone addicted to an NPS
  • If you or a friend are trying to stop using NPS:
    • If you take heroin, make sure you have access to naloxone and foil  
    • Try and eat healthier and get plenty of sleep
    • Reach out to an organisation like Cocaine Anonymous (CA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
    • Speak to your GP, local Hub, Gateway to Recovery or local drug and alcohol service for guidance
    • More information is available at:

More Information:

Last Reviewed: 07/09/2015