Tuesday, 22 November 2011

‘Legal high’ drugs are misleading and not ‘safe’

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has published a ground-breaking report  on tackling the issue of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), sometimes euphemistically referred to as ‘legal highs’ by retailers and consumers alike.

The concern about such products is they are being used recreationally without consumers actually appreciating what they are taking. Retailers of branded products do not state what is inside the packets they sell i.e. the ingredients – so the potential consumer does not know what they are taking. It’s likely the retailers themselves don’t even know. Even if the names of the active ingredients are listed there is no guarantee as to quality or consistency over time. Because there has been no scientific investigation of these novel psychoactive substances, the pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, metabolism, and toxicity of these products are unknown. Labelling products as ‘legal highs’ can also be misleading on at least 2 counts: (a) ‘legal’ does not imply ‘safe’; and (b) many of the products actually still contain controlled drugs.

Governments have tried to keep pace with these rapid developments, trying to ascertain whether such substances pose any harm to individuals and society. However, it is very difficult to know in real time what is actually being used by consumers as the time taken by many of these substances to emerge and then disappear again off the radar has typically been very short. Many Governments have rapidly controlled these substances through ‘generic’ legislation. The result of this was that these ‘research chemists’ started changing the molecular structures of substances so that they could get round these new controls. Control using ‘analogue’ legislation also has its problems. This report from the ACMD sets out a number of “tried and tested” as well as novel options to regulate/ control such substances. The UK Government will now consider these options. At a European level, similar considerations have started. Our informed international sources say that a copy of the report is on its way to the White House!

We, at the School of Pharmacy welcome these developments to which we contributed through research being carried out by myself, Professor Fabrizio Schifano and Dr Ornella Corazza through her work on the RedNet Project.

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