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Two psychoactive substances, better known to the general public as ‘legal’ highs, are set to be banned. In addition, a change in drug descriptions is also being considered by the Home Office, which is expected to widen the ban on ‘legal’ highs. 

Reportedly responsible for a wave of deaths throughout Europe, Ministers seem to have taken advice from the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to control New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) 4,4’-DMAR and MT-45 as Class A substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. 

Now associated with the deaths of 37 people in the UK, 4,4’-DMAR, which goes under the street-name Serotoni, has shown to cause worrying effects on health, including convulsions and hyperthermia. 

Although MT-45 has not shown up in the UK yet, it’s making an appearance across Europe and is mixed with other psychoactive substances and has been linked to 18 deaths in Sweden. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has reported that the substance can lead to coma, respiratory problems and hearing loss. 

Both substances, under new laws, will fall under Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations. This ensures they have no recognised medical, chemical or industrial use. 

Of course, whenever a ‘legal’ high is forcibly banned and its effects exposed, it shows a determination by those in authority to tackle the problem. However, as the substance misuse professionals that we recruit will say, as soon as one psychoactive substance disappears another surfaces in its place. Given the ability of manufacturers to swiftly ‘tweak’ their formulas, it’s no wonder the government has banned more than 350 ‘legal’ highs. 

As difficult as it is, there needs to be an enforceable blanket ban. After all, as our colleagues in substance misuse know all too well, ‘legal’ highs are not only addictive but are also a lifestyle choice for a proportion of young people. It’s a growing concern, especially with regards to chemically created drugs that produce not dissimilar effects to cannabis. The constant manipulation of these so called ‘legal’ highs ensures they fall outside the control of the Misuse of Drugs Act, despite two attempts by the government to control this. 

The government brought in two sets of controls. In 2009, it banned a list of compounds to avoid some variants being created and last year the list was extended to include a broader range of materials. 

What the ACMD is boldly proposing is that there should be a revised generic description that aims to control what it coins a ‘third generation’ of synthetic cannabinoids. 

This will be incredibly difficult to achieve, but we understand the Home Office is considering ACMD’s recommendations. 

Interestingly though, in all the talk on the control of ‘legal’ highs in the past week, there’s not been much on the preventative measures that are needed. 

Of course it’s important to limit the availability of dangerous substances that are readily available to purchase, but there’s some great programmes being run by substance misuse professionals to prevent young people from misusing in the first place. 

We hope that when the government announces its deliberations that it details how it intends to prevent psychoactive substances being pushed ‘underground’ as well as a clear direction on the preventative measures needed. 

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