UK Drug Trends: Legal Highs / NPS

UK Drug Trends - Legal Highs

It has been 9 months since the Psychoactive Substances Act was enforced, banning all ‘Legal Highs.’ The law was brought in due to the devastating side-effects legal highs have on its users. These substances are unpredictable and can be highly potent, making them extremely addictive and dangerous.

A recent study by DrugWise called ‘Highways and Buyways: A Snapshot of UK Drug Scenes 2016 has found that the use of former legal highs such as Spice has caused users to move on to other drugs such as heroin. In fact, within the UK there has been an increase in heroin use among younger people:

“We found out about the young heroin users through the grapevine and then it was confirmed when the young homeless hostel where they were staying called us up for advice about a group of people aged 18-25 who started using heroin a month ago after using spice. They missed out Valium smoking and most have gone straight to injecting.” [Newcastle]

“There is a new phenomenon of young people starting to use heroin mainly off the back of spice.” [Belfast]

Quote from Highways and Buyways: A Snapshot of UK Drug Scenes 2016

One of the residents of a homeless hostel in Newcastle who started using heroin as a result of Spice use claims heroin helps fight the effects of NPS withdrawal:

“One day in November I’d been on the rattle [withdrawing] from Spice for two days. I was sweating, I had the shakes, felt sick and couldn’t get to sleep. One of the older residents suggested I try heroin to calm me down.

It didn’t knock me out like Spice did – it made me tired – but it helped take the rattle off. Now I smoke a £10 bag of heroin a day at night after Spice. Since then I’ve also started using crack. So now, after starting on Spice, I’m chasing three habits instead of one.”

Quote from Vice Article ‘This Is What’s Happening in Britain’s Drug Scene Right Now’

One of the fears surrounding the change in legislation was that the legal high trade would be forced underground. To a degree, it seems that it has as in some areas of the UK Spice is still easily accessible through dealers. On the one hand, the Psychoactive Substances Act has caused the closure of head shops across the UK, so it has achieved its goals. This however has led to street dealing and alternative distribution to those who are addicted.

About Randox Testing Services

Randox Testing Services is at the forefront of developing tests to detect the presence of NPS. One example of this is that the world’s first synthetic cannabinoid detection ‘spice’ test was developed at Randox.

In the endless pursuit of creating innovative tests for new and emerging legal highs, our expertise sets us apart from the rest of the industry. We provide tests for identifying NPS’ and operate to provide accurate results and customer satisfaction. For more information on our tests for psychoactive substances visit or contact us at

Watch our timeline showing the legislation changes and new testing measures brought in to tackle the use of NPS: Click here to watch