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Significant Risk from Online ‘Legal Highs’

Significant Risk from Online Legal HighsA new UK study finds that recreational drug users may be putting their health at risk by ingesting substances purchased legally via the Internet.

Although policymakers are attempting to limit the availability of drug products, substances marketed as plant food or bath salts are still being sold online. Common products include mephedrone, a synthetic stimulant drug of the amphetamine class marketed as plant food and cathinones, marketed as bath salts.

In a study, published in the British Medical Journal, University of Leicester researchers John Bond, M.D., and Tammy Ayres, Ph.D., analyzed the constituents of 22 products marketed as research chemicals. The chemicals were marketed as plant food or bath salts and were purchased from five different Internet sites.

Researchers are concerned about the legality and safety of the substances and the potential impact these synthetic substances may be having on public health and the criminal justice system.

Their findings illustrate that illegal cathinones are still being sold online as legal alternatives to illegal substances — a fact also used as a marketing tool by the suppliers in this research.

“Recreational drug use has changed to include a range of substances sold as ‘research chemicals’ and ‘plant food’ but known by users as ‘legal highs’ — legal alternatives to the most popular illicit recreational drugs,” said Ayers.

“The number of new legal highs appearing on the market is continuing to grow and the number of online shops selling these substances has trebled since 2010.

“This raises concerns over the health of those buying and taking these substances as little is known about their long term affects. There are only a handful of studies that have bought and tested legal highs available to purchase off the internet for banned cathinones.

“This research demonstrates that drugs cannot be legislated out of existence and illustrates that prohibiting these substances does not stop their supply or their use.”

Gaming the criminal justice system is not new, said Bond.

“Products are frequently given new names and marketed as superior, but legal, alternatives to the banned substances they purport to replace. It is not known how many of these new products contain newly synthesized and legal chemicals and how many continue to contain illegal substances like mephedrone, which has been linked to a number of deaths.”

Bond is concerned that ingestion of the substances may compromise the ability of health care providers to help in an emergency.

“Health professionals have a complete lack of knowledge about the short- and long-term effects these substances have on those presenting themselves at GP’s surgeries or hospitals. Even if they take the packaging with them, there is nothing on it to assist in understanding what it is that the patient has taken,” he said.

“These substances are not legal, it is simply that the companies selling them purport them to be harmless and legal when the opposite is true.”

Source: University of Leicester

Computer mouse and pills photo by shutterstock.

Significant Risk from Online ‘Legal Highs’

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Significant Risk from Online ‘Legal Highs’. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 7 Dec 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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