LGA - Government urged by councils to outlaw all ‘legal high' sales

16 Sep 2014 11:51 AM

The Government must outlaw the sale of potentially lethal 'legal highs' which are becoming endemic on the country's high streets, councils say.

Research by the Local Government Association (LGA) of 18 councils across the country most affected by legal highs reveals every authority was aware of them being sold, often over the counter in ‘head shops'.

Deaths from legal highs have more than doubled in the past four years from 26 in 2009 to 60 last year. They killed far more people than ecstasy (43 in 2013), latest figures reveal. The synthetic ‘psychoactive' drugs, which usually have lurid names like ‘Clockwork Orange', ‘Bliss' and ‘Mary Jane', have been directly linked to poisoning, emergency hospital admissions including in mental health services and, in some cases, deaths. They dodge drugs laws by being sold as ‘not fit for human consumption', bypassing chemical compositions which are already banned. They are often advertised as plant food or research chemicals.

Now the LGA, which represents almost 400 councils in England and Wales – who last year took over responsibility for public health – is calling for a complete ban on the sale of all legal highs.

The LGA, which stresses this is about targeting sellers, wants the UK to follow legislation introduced in Ireland four years ago. This bans the sale of all ‘psychoactive' (brain altering) drugs and then exempts some, such as alcohol and tobacco. Currently, the system here works the other way round. The Irish legislation has effectively eliminated all ‘head shops' that sell legal highs.

Councils spend about 30 per cent (£830 million a year) of their entire public health budget on drug and alcohol misuse – more than any other service. They argue this clamp-down would help reduce this staggering sum – so funds could be freed up for other health priorities.

Cllr Ann Lucas OBE, Chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: "These are not legal highs – they are lethal highs and they are deceptively dangerous. As they are unregulated, no one knows what is really in them or what effect they will have. Young people are playing Russian roulette with their health and sometimes their lives.

"The effects of some of these lethal highs can be truly terrifying – delirium, stupor, hallucinations, coma and even death.

"This is all about tackling the sellers. Legal high shops are becoming endemic to our high streets, which is why we are calling on the Government to introduce robust and vigorous new laws to tackle them. The sooner we put these so-called ‘head shops' out of business for good the better.

"As soon as one legal high is outlawed another one, with a slightly different chemical composition, will spring up. Trading Standards officers are doing a magnificent job trying to tackle this spiralling issue but, because the legislation is so inadequate, they are effectively fighting a war with one hand behind their back.

"A key priority is educating and informing younger people about the dangers and risks of these drugs and councils play a pivotal role in this."


‘Head shops'

What are ‘legal highs'?
‘Legal highs' that are actually legal contain one or more chemical substances which produce similar effects to illegal drugs.
TalktoFrank website talks about legal highs

How many use them?
Drug misuse: Findings from the 2013/14 Crime Survey for England and Wales

Case studies


A unique campaign aimed at tackling the problem of new psychoactive substances (NPS) – the so-called 'legal highs' – has been launched in Kent. In a coordinated series of raids, officers from Kent and Medway Trading Standards, with the support of police, seized 424 samples from 20 shops across the county and suspended the sale of a further 1,443.
Trail-blazing action over ‘legal highs'


Local leaders from the Portsmouth area are lobbying the Government to take action on the sale of legal highs.


Cornwall Council Trading Standards has been working with Devon and Cornwall Police to investigate exactly what is inside ‘legal highs'.
What is inside a 'legal high' – Cornwall County Council website


Around 360 packs of untested drugs – commonly known as 'legal highs' – were seized by Trading Standards Officers from Nottinghamshire County Council in a raid on a shop in Mansfield. The substances are often branded and labelled in packaging that can fool both businesses and customers into believing that they are safe to sell and consume. The seized packs ranging from 0.5g to 3.0g, were a mixture of tablets and vegetable material powders, and were labelled with brands such as 'Herbal Haze', 'Pandora's Box', 'Pink Panthe'r, 'El Blanco', 'Lady B's and 'Happy Joker'.
Press Release issued following the raid:

Update: Sample tests have been carried out on six of the products seized. Four of the six samples contained chemicals that mimic synthetic cannabinoids, which are far more potent than cannabis and likely to lead to addiction and dependency. The analyst considered them "a risk to the health of the general public". In addition, some of the compounds have been associated with seizures, kidney damage, and death

Legal highs background 



The Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 makes it an offence to sell a psychoactive substance knowing or being reckless as to whether it is being acquired or supplied for human consumption. It also places the burden of proof ‘on balance of probabilities', thereby making it easier to prove. We demonstrate briefly below how the Act works in practice (for more details please see Appendix I).

A central provision of the Act is the definition of the term ‘psychoactive substance' as a substance, product, preparation, plant, fungus or natural organism which has, when consumed by a person, the capacity to:

a. produce stimulation or depression of the central nervous system of the person, resulting in hallucinations or a significant disturbance in, or significant change to, motor function, thinking, behaviour, perception, awareness or mood, or

b. cause a state of dependence, including physical or psychological addiction, but with exemptions for alcohol, tobacco, food etc.

In Ireland, the law is enacted in the following way:

A recent review of this legislation has found:

‘While the operation of the 2010 Act continues to be monitored, it appears that the legislation has achieved its main objective which was to tackle the head shop trade in Ireland and the widespread public availability of unregulated psychoactive substances.'

This process has also been applied to online outlets of ‘legal highs' based in the UK. The police, having identified an online seller of psychoactive substances, would contact them and can begin the process against them.


Matthew Cooper, Senior Media Relations Officer
Local Government Association
Local Government House, Smith Square, London SW1P 3HZ
Telephone: 0207 664 3007
Email: matthew.cooper@local.gov.uk