Beware of overplaying health risks, for example over-exaggerating the risk of coma or death, as this can be perceived as scare tactics and messages become less credible.
Research suggests that young people tend to think they are invincible and have trouble contemplating long-term consequences. Encouraging young people to think about immediate impact on relationships, mood, reputation and/or vanity (shown to be influential for some) is likely to be more effective.
UK-based research suggests that users do not often use the term “legal highs” but generally use specific names (such as Benzos or GBL), or refer to substances by effect (such as uppers or downers) However, in Jersey users have been reported not to know names or effects of so called “legal highs” they are taking, but just refer to them as “legals”.
While for some user groups the issue of legality is not important, some younger groups can have a tendency to assume that so called “legal highs” have been sanctioned by the government. In discussions, try to say ‘so called’ or ‘misleadingly called’ before using the term, in order to avoid promoting a legal and harmless image. This can be used as an opening for conversation into the risks involved in taking so called “legal highs”, to reinforce the message that “legal” does not = safe, and the reasons for this.
Media attention is often given to announcements that significant numbers of ‘new drugs’ have been identified. A common misconception is that these new drugs are all as different from each other as ecstasy is from heroin. However, it is highly likely that any new drug identified will fit into one of the five categories described below.
Whilst some substances may have a combination of effects (e.g. MDMA/Ecstasy is a psychedelic and a stimulant; and cannabis/synthetic cannabinoids are downers and psychedelics), there is virtually no NPS or so called “legal high” that you cannot easily fit into one of the following five groups. This is important, because once understood, it will help improve knowledge about what some of the effects and risks of a particular so called “legal high” might be.
- Stimulant-type drugs: these drugs have a stimulant/alerting effect on the brain and mimic substances such as amphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy. This category includes, BZP, mephedrone, MPDV, NRG-1, Benzo Fury, MDAI and ethylphenidate.
- Downers’/tranquiliser-type/sedative-type drugs (aka ‘depressants’) drugs: these drugs have a significant inhibitory and relaxing effect on the brain and mimic various sedating, anti anxiety and opioid-like drugs (and alcohol). The category includes, for example, new drugs from the benzodiazepine family (such as etizolam, pyrazolam and flubromazepam, Nitrous Oxide and new synthetic opioids).
- Hallucinogenic drugs: these drugs make users hallucinate, feel relaxed and happy or agitated and confused. These drugs mimic substances like LSD and include 25i-NBOMe, Bromo- Dragonfly and Methoxetamine which is similar to ketamine.
- Dissociative drugs: a category of drugs which mimic substances such as PCP (Phencyclidine), ketamine and DXM, whose main effect is to cause a detachment as if the mind and body have been some people feeling incapable of moving. They can also cause hallucinations and have both stimulant and depressant effects.
- Synthetic cannabinoids: these are synthetic drugs that are designed to mimic the action of the active chemical found in cannabis and are traded under such names as: Spice, Clockwork Orange, Black Mamba and Exodus Damnation. They are not derived from the cannabis plant. These could be included as downer-type drugs with psychedelic effects, but given their current wide range wide and potency, they are described here as a separate group.
Source: UK Drugs Advisory Council: March 2015