Legal High Pic 2For a drug to be covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the drug’s unique chemical structure is defined. Can you see the loophole?

In order to make a drug legal, you just need to alter the structure enough so that it is not covered by the legalities. Change the structure a little and you still get the same high without making it illegal. In some cases you can even make it more potent!

Ignoring the challenges that the chemists will encounter during synthesis, it’s a theoretically, simple alteration that can be utilised for a number of years. Taking Mephedrone as an example, it was “rediscovered” in 2003 (originally synthesised in 1929) and its use was widespread in Europe by the late 2000s. It wasn’t until early 2011 that it was made completely illegal. Mephedrone is a derivative of Cathinone and is therefore very similar:


Cathinone was made illegal much earlier than Mephedrone. It was due to the scandals surrounding Mephedrone that it was made illegal as quickly as it was. In the US, the government is able to make a drug illegal by defining Legal Highs as analogues of already illegal drugs. This side steps the issues we see in the UK because the drug does not have to be defined in such a stringent manner.

However, how do you know what you are taking is the legal high you desire? How do you source a drug that you can guarantee is uniquely that drug? Short of synthesising the drug yourself, there is no way you can guarantee purity. Herein lies the problem with detection. When detecting a drug, you are comparing a known structure to data gathered from a test. For example, Ketamine will have always have a specific structure so you will look for this structure and if you find it, you will get a positive result for ketamine. However, if the drug consumed was not ketamine but another substance, which provides the same depressant effects, the user won’t know the difference, but the laboratory will be able to tell that it wasn’t ketamine. In this case the test will be negative. There will be many instances where the substance causing the effects on the user is likely to be undefined (the lab don’t have comparable data), unknown (a random substance) or not even tested for. Why would you test for cocaine when the user has said they took something completely different? This would be a waste of resources.
When testing in the work place, it is vital that anyone in a safety critical role is not working under the influence of drugs, not only for their own safety but also for the safety of others. However challenging testing for legal highs can be, there will be cases of suspect behaviour and nothing can be proven. This is why it is important to test for the substances that we know we can detect, just in case.

Legal High PIctureHow can BP Associates help?

BP Associates offers OCN (Open Collage Network) accredited, highly interactive workshops, which are specifically designed to enhance awareness of the problems surrounding substance misuse. The “Psychoactive Awareness Training Course” aims to increase delegates understanding of legal, physical and psychological risks through education. Delegates are taught to identify trends, warning signs and behaviours before dependency and addiction, allowing informed decisions to be made before encountering problematic situations in the workplace and for individuals.
We will be pleased to answer any of your queries. Feel free to contact us using the following link – contact us

Rachel Robson
BP Associates
08450 519 389