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The Big Ban Theory: An insight into legal highs usage among young people in England and Wales

New psychoactive substances (NPS) refers to newly available drugs that mimic the effects of drugs such as Cannabis, Ecstasy and Powder Cocaine, which may or may not be legal to buy but are often referred to as legal highs.

With the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 set to come into force on 26 May 2016, this report seeks to address this gap in knowledge by investigating the motivations that young people have for using legal highs and the effect the Act will have on usage.

The purpose of this report is not to critique the individual elements of the Act. Instead, it is to give a voice to young people, all of whom have had different experiences of legal highs, to examine the potential effects of the legislation change and understand what measures they believe could be introduced to help mitigate the harms caused by some legal highs.

While drug use, whether that be legal highs or illegal drugs, is seemingly inevitable, the harms that young people are experiencing in many cases are not.

Evidence uncovered in this research shows that the majority of young people taking legal highs are doing so infrequently, and with very little perceived harm to their health and wellbeing. However, for those whose use is more entrenched, there is a darker side to legal highs that the Government is doing little to address.

The need to act on legal highs usage represents a very real chance to examine the wider way in which we address drug use among young people.

While the research found that the blanket ban will likely reduce usage, in order to affect behavioural change the Government must focus on the information, advice and support that is available to young people who may be experiencing harms associated with legal highs.

Currently young people are ill-informed and unprepared for the very real risks that are associated with many legal highs. Throughout the research few young people had positive experiences to report of the harder end of legal highs, but still young people are continuing to experiment with substances akin to Heroin, without prior knowledge.