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Legal highs ban: Everything you need to know as ban on psychoactive drugs comes into place

The Psychoactive Substances Act came into force on Thursday and puts an end to the open sale of legal highs on the high street - but poppers are not included

Poppers are not included in the ban under the Psychoactive Substances Bill

Legal highs can no longer be sold on the high street after the government's new Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect on Thursday.

The act bans the production and supply of so-called ‘legal highs’ designed for human consumption, which until now had been legitimately sold in 'head shops' in many town centres.

The new law does not, however, affect possession of the substances.

People in west London over the age of 55, particularly in Ealing , who are seeking drug and alcohol treatment has leaped by 25% in the past year according to figures from Public Health.

But how will this change in law affect users? getwestlondon has taken a look at the changes that are now in place as a result of the act.

Aren’t drugs illegal anyway?

Confusingly, these 'legal' highs, or New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), have been available to sell openly as they have not specifically been banned. Since each individual drug has to be outlawed to prevent it being sold, the retailers are able to stay one step ahead of the law.

The government found it nigh on impossible to deal with many substances as the chemical compounds are altered each time a specific substance was outlawed.

So, how will the new law work?

Now, all substances “capable of producing a psychoactive effect” are banned, but specific exceptions, like alcohol, can be made.

It was initially set to come into force in April, but the date was pushed back to make sure it can be implemented smoothly.

Examples of legal highs include synthetic cannabis, like “Spice” or “Black Mamba” and powdered substances designed to mimic the effects of cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy.

Laughing Gas (nitrous oxide) is included in the ban, as is the hallucinogenic herb, Salvia. Both were previously freely available.

But there's nitrous oxide in loads of things?

Nitrous oxide has many purposes and is used in containers of whipped cream.

But before you panic about being able to get hold of whipped cream, The Home Office advice is this can still be sold, but it is up the store to determine if it is going to be used for its intended purpose.

Someone buying 25 canisters at midnight, for example, is likely to arouse suspicion.

What is exempt?

The act makes allowances for “legitimate substances” so food, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and medical products, which can all be categorised as psychoactive substances, will be exempt from the act.

'Legal highs' have now been made illegal(Image: Paul Chappells)

Why aren't poppers banned?

Poppers, or alkyl nitrites, are not included in the ban because the government ruled in March that they are not “psychoactive” as they produce “peripheral effects” on the brain.

What happens if I am caught with legal highs?

The ban does not cover possession - only production, trade, supply and intent to supply.

If you are caught with a small amount you are probably not breaking the law.

But if you are caught with psychoactive substances inside prison, you could face a fresh two-year sentence.

What are the penalties for those caught producing, supplying or selling legal highs?

Anyone caught producing, supplying or selling legal highs, under the ban could face a seven-year prison sentence.

Police can shut down ‘head shops’ caught selling the drugs along with UK based online dealers.

Officers will also be able to confiscate and destroy legal highs.

Will it work?

Yasmin Batliwala JP, who is the chair of WDP, a charity that provides drug and alcohol recovery services in London , the south east and east of England said: "The ban will have an effect on New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) being accessible to the public.

"However it is yet to be determined if the legislation is feasible in its application. Legal highs are extremely difficult to control as the prohibition of one brand will see the arrival of several new products.

"There is also the risk that the criminalisation of legal highs will push more people to turn to dealers of illicit substances.

"Current users of these substances will be forced to turn to people who may also supply Class A narcotics.

"The 'back alley' market is difficult to control and it could lead to a larger population being intimidated and manipulated by such criminal activity.

"However, it must be stressed that these substances are potentially dangers to any users.

"We would urge anybody concerned about themselves or a loved one using legal highs to get in touch for confidential free advice, support or treatment."

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