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Strange Molecules

The essential facts on “legal highs” – plus help and advice.

About 1 in 5 'legal high' products have been found to contain an illegal drug (usually another recently-banned 'legal high').

Getting Arrested

Getting arrested

If the police find you in possession of a 'legal high', they will treat you as if the drug is illegal. You’ll be arrested and taken to the police station. If the drug is analysed and turns out to be legal, you won’t be charged with any offence – but the reverse is also true.

Temporary Class Drug Order


New 'legal highs' are being produced so quickly that a new law has been introduced to deal with them: the “TCDO” (Temporary Class Drug Order). When the government believes a new drug could be especially risky, it gets treated like a controlled class B drug (in terms of supply, not possession) for a 12-month period. During this time, the effects and dangers of the drug can be studied.

Your Choice

Your choice

The choices you make now can have a long-lasting impact on your life. Having a criminal record could seriously affect your current and future education or employment opportunities. For information on the maximum penalties for each class of drugs, visit Drugscope. Back to top
'Legal highs' are also known as 'club drugs', 'research chemicals', 'designer drugs' or 'new/novel psychoactive substances.'

Molecular Tweaks

Molecular tweaks

These new drugs are created by making minor tweaks at a molecular level to common illegal drugs like cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy and speed, so they mimic their effects. For example, methiopropamine (occasionally - but not reliably - found in some 'legal high' products including 'Poke') has a very similar chemical structure to methamphetamine (aka crystal meth).

New Drugs

One new drug a week

The 'legal high' industry moves fast – around one new drug is produced every week. When one drug is banned, there’s another to take its place. This process has been going on for about 100 years – the difference now is that the internet has created a global drug marketplace.

No Saftey

No safety testing

These drugs are produced well outside of the standard rules and regulations – so there are massive variations in quality. Most medications are subjected to long studies and 'safety testing'. This is not the case with 'legal highs', so nobody knows the short-term or long-term risks. Because of this, we strongly recommend that you avoid trying these untested drugs.

Plant Food

Plant food?

You may see 'legal highs' sold in packets marked 'not for human consumption' and/or 'plant food', 'room incense' or 'bath salts'. This is to get around the fact that it’s technically illegal to sell them for human consumption. Back to top
Specific risks with taking 'legal highs' are so far largely unknown. However, these drugs tend to fall into one or more of the following categories:


STIMULANTS (e.g. cocaine, speed, caffeine)

These may make you feel:
  • Energised
  • Alert
The health risks are:
  • Heart problems
  • Mental health issues (panic, anxiety, paranoia)
  • Difficulty sleeping and eating (which can further worsen mental health issues)
You should also know:
  • It can be difficult to keep use of these drugs under control
  • When you stop you may feel 'down'


DEPRESSANTS (e.g. alcohol, GBL/GHB, Valium, heroin)

These may make you feel:
  • Relaxed
  • Unselfconscious
The health risks are:
  • Accidental comas and fatal overdose (especially when mixing drugs, particularly alcohol)
  • Tolerance (needing more to get the same effect)
  • Addiction
  • Nasty withdrawal symptoms (these can be dangerous and you may need special treatment to come off the drug safely)



These drugs may:
  • Change your perceptions (so you might experience colours, sounds, thoughts, smells, touch and sight in different ways);
  • Make you feel disoriented and prone to accidents.
Health risks:
  • If you’ve got any existing mental health problems like anxiety or depression then it’s probably a good idea to avoid these types of drugs
  • Increase in body temperature
  • Convulsions
  • Circulatory problems
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Do you really want to be a guinea pig for an unknown drug? Remember some of these drugs are very powerful, so even if you follow the advice below you could still cause yourself harm. There are also new drugs coming onto the market all the time which may affect you in different, previously unseen ways. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from 'legal highs' is simple: don't take them. If you’re determined to try 'legal highs', then here are some tips to help reduce the risks:
  • Do your research. Read online info and reports from other people (but remember: these sources aren’t necessarily trustworthy)
  • Make sure you're with a friend or loved one who hasn't taken anything, so that if you have a bad reaction, they can call for help if necessary.
  • Take a 'test dose' first – a tiny dab or half a pill –then wait at least 3 hours before taking any more
  • The amount you need can be tiny for some drugs
  • With other drugs, it might take over 2 hours to start to feel the effects, and they can last for over 14 hours
  • Avoid mixing any substance with other drugs (including alcohol)
  • Make sure you’re fully recovered from your experience before doing it again
  • Take care of yourself afterwards with plenty of sleep and healthy food
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, and tell emergency services exactly what you’ve taken.
The way you take drugs also has a big impact on the risks you run.


SNORTING (used to take powders)

  • Use a clean straw and not a bank note: money carries lots of germs
  • Don’t share rolled bank notes or straws: you risk getting a blood-borne viral infection (like Hepatitis C)
  • Some drugs can damage your nasal passage. Rinse your nose with water before and after sorting
  • If you get nosebleeds or headaches you’re using too much!


EATING (dropping a pill or bombing a powder)

  • The drug has to pass through your digestive system so this method is less intense but more long-lasting than some others
  • Eat a light meal a few hours before to reduce stomach aches, nausea or vomiting
  • Regular use can give you stomach ulcers and other digestive problems


SMOKING (joints/pipes/bongs)

  • Generally results in a shorter, more intense experience
  • Regular smoking of any drug can cause respiratory problems like bronchitis and even cancer
  • Choose a non-toxic pipe (e.g. a water bong) and avoid plastic or metal


INJECTING (needles)

  • Injecting any drug is an extremely high-risk practice – best avoided!
  • If you’re determined to go down this route, visit your local needle exchange for information.

Up Your Bum

'UYB' (putting pills/caps 'up your bum')

  • The drug is absorbed through the thin mucous-covered tissue in your anus
  • Increased risk of spreading bacteria and infections like Hepatitis A and B: wash your hands carefully before and after
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