One of the nice things about going to university or college is that you get to enjoy your first real bit of freedom. It can be great to be able to spend time with friends in bars, restaurants, clubs and other places. And there is usually lots of interesting stuff going on. Student life can also mean coming into contact with both legal and illegal drugs. The dangers of these substances are well publicised, and most of us have the confidence to just say no. Many students may be tempted to try those drugs that are referred to as ‘legal highs’ – these can seem pretty harmless. This is a dangerous misunderstanding though, and the fact that a drug has not yet been made illegal does not mean that it is safe. Often they are marketed as non-consumable materials such as plant seeds to avoid the testing that most consumables go through before becoming available to the public.

Mephedrone as a Case Study in Legal Highs

Interesting Fact: Legal highs can just be as addictive and damaging as Class A drugs or even worse as you don’t know what they actually contain.

Up until 2010, it was legal to purchase mephedrone. This is a type of amphetamine that was relatively unknown – until it started killing people. The fact that mephedrone was considered a legal high had nothing to do with it being safe to use – it is just that it managed to slip through a legal loophole. This is the same with most of the so-called legal highs and is why the law is being changed so that these drugs cannot be sold openly. The problem in the past has been that the producers of illegal drugs could just make a few tweaks to the substance and could then sell it as something completely new that hadn’t yet being banned. The days of being able to do this though, are thankfully over.

Popular Legal Highs

It is hard to keep up with the names of legal highs because they are always changing. Some of the more well known include:

  • Diablo
  • Black Mamba
  • Benzo fury
  • Ivory wave
  • MKET
  • Eric 3
  • MXE
  • GBL
  • BZP

The Dangers of Legal Highs

Legal highs can be very dangerous for a number of reasons, including:

  • They are unknown – for example, it took a lot of deaths before people realised how dangerous mephedrone could be.
  • Containing chemicals that have never been tested for human consumption.
  • Those buying these drugs will often have no idea about what they are getting.
  • Becoming addicted to these substances.
  • Developing psychological and physical problems as a result of taking these drugs.
  • Containing substances that are actually illegal.
  • These substances are now covered by the substance misuse act so they are no longer ‘legal highs’– being caught with them could lead to serious trouble.


As with all drugs, it is important to take some safety precautions if you decide to experiment with them. As these drugs vary a lot, specific advice is difficult to give, so general drug use precautions should be given thought, such as the ones below:

Interesting Fact: The UK Government has now introduced new powers, meaning they can place a temporary ban on any potentially harmful substance, while they await a recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), an independent group of experts, on whether it should be permanently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
  • Take low doses to make overdosing less likely.
  • Be surrounded by trusted friends/family when taking the drugs in case of a medical emergency.
  • Make sure you are in a safe place to avoid hurting yourself or others.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water, DO NOT drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages while under the influence of other drugs.
  • If you start to feel severe side effects such as chest pains, trouble breathing or any other alarming health problem, call an ambulance immediately.

How to Get Help for Problems Related to Legal Highs

Having an adverse reaction after taking one these drugs will mean a visit to an A & E department right away. Those that feel that as if they are developing an addiction should speak to their GP. They can also see an additional specialist. Those finding it hard to quit these substances may benefit from attending rehab. Read more about children and students with addictions in our student addiction guide.