The potential health risks of legal highs are being highlighted by health professionals and carers.
Increased use of the chemical substances, more correctly referred to as novel psychoactive substances (NPS) or compounds, seems to suggest a notable trend in UK drug taking, experts suggest.
The substances can, however, have a serious impact on physical and mental health, and staff from the ²gether NHS Foundation Trust and people with experience of legal high use in their family say people need to be more aware of the dangers.
Someone who has first hand experience of the impact legal highs can have on their loved ones is the mother of a young Cheltenham man currently being treated by ²gether.
Sandra, who wishes to remain anonymous, said her son now realises the damage the substances were doing to him, but at the time they seemed like a safe and attractive stimulant.
“We first realised my son was using legal highs when he was being treated at an inpatient facility and they were found in his room,” she explained.
“His mental health had gone backwards very quickly and we didn’t realise why until the legal highs were found. I rang the owner of the shop he had bought them in and she told me she never sold them to people who were unwell, but there’s no way she can really tell.
“My son stopped using them and recovered but then we noticed he was relapsing, and we caught him using legal highs again. This time his physical health went downhill as well and he had a frightening experience.
“My son is very black and white in his thinking. He assumed that because they were legal they must be safe. Now he says he is no longer using them and he admits, looking back, that they caused his relapse.
“The quality of care my son is receiving is of the highest standard and appreciate that everything is being done by staff to aid his recovery.
“I just think it is a pity that the heavy legislation which ensures his safety is not backed up and supported by legislation which would make these drugs impossible for him or any other vulnerable person to have access to these substances.
“It seems such a pity when a highly committed and pro-active health care system is let down by the law and the people selling these drugs, who either have absolutely no knowledge of the damage these drugs can do or are fully aware but choose to remain complacent and greedy.”
Mental Health Nurse Shelley Jones, who is a Unit Manager (Modern Matron) within ²gether, said she too has serious concerns about the use of legal highs.
“I know of people buying them in both Cheltenham and Gloucester and they seem to be freely available on the internet as well,” she said.
“That doesn’t mean they aren’t harmful though. In fact, I would say they are more harmful than some illegal drugs in terms of the health implications.
“A number of people we work with have had an extremely bad reaction to these drugs – both in terms of a severe deterioration in their mental health, and extreme reactions in their physical health.
“We’ve also had families we work with comment on their concerns about legal highs and their use locally.
“They are dangerous enough when used on their own, but mixed with alcohol, prescription medication and other drugs, they can have a severe impact on someone’s health; people need to be aware of the risks”
Danny Morris, Development Manager with ²gether’s Drug Treatment and Advice Service Herefordshire (DASH), said that newer substances were increasingly common and that many people do take them without evident ill effects, but for some they cause serious issues.
He said: “Newer substances typically mimic the effects of more familiar controlled drugs are typically taken for the same reasons and in similar situations. While many people take them in a controlled manner without any problem, a small but significant proportion of people will suffer physical and mental health issues as a result.
“If people do not want to or cannot stop taking legal highs altogether, there are ways in which they can limit the health risks by, for example, not mixing them with other drugs or taking them at the same time as drinking alcohol.”
Anyone concerned that their health is being affected by the use of novel psychoactive substances or ‘legal highs’ should speak to their GP or an organisation like the Independence Trust in Gloucestershire on 0845 863 8323 or DASH on 01432 263636.