Legal High Addiction

The world of legal highs is a complex and ever-evolving landscape of initially legal psychoactive drugs. They can emerge onto the drug black market from seemingly nowhere but can cause enormous damage before the authorities can catch up. Legal high abuse can pose significant health risks due to its unpredictable nature and lack of regulation, with legal high addiction among the most serious potential dangers. Understanding what legal highs are, how they are abused, and their potential for addiction are all crucial for ensuring personal and public safety and awareness.

What are legal highs?

Legal highs are synthetic or naturally occurring substances that mimic the effects of controlled drugs while remaining (at least initially) legal. This is often done by altering their chemical structures slightly to circumvent drug laws and create synthetic cannabinoids, stimulants, hallucinogens and sedatives. Legal highs are often marketed as “research chemicals” or “herbal incense”, with these labels being a cover for their true purpose.

Despite their (initial) legal status, legal highs can pose significant health risks due to their unpredictable potency and unknown long-term effects. What is known, however, is that short-term health and personal risks can be incredibly serious and that many legal highs carry the potential for dependency and addiction.

What is legal high addiction?

Legal high addiction involves compulsive use of legal highs despite obvious issues as a result.

These substances’ ambiguous legal status can deceive users into perceiving them as safe. Many begin by experimenting socially, drawn by effects similar to traditional party drugs. Yet, this casual use can rapidly escalate, leading to tolerance and physical dependence. Psychologically, legal highs may become perceived as essential for coping with stress or underlying mental health issues. At this point, legal high addiction can completely take you over, with all other responsibilities abandoned and all control lost.

Some of the most common forms of legal high addiction include:

Benzo fury button

Benzo Fury addiction

Benzo Fury use often begins at social events or parties to enhance energy, mood and confidence. However, things can quickly turn, with addiction potentially developing even after relatively short-term use.

Benzo Fury addiction →

Mephedrone button

Mephedrone addiction

Mephedrone is often abused for its effects, which are described as being similar to a combination of cocaine and MDMA. Tolerance can develop rapidly, with users taking large amounts of mephedrone.

Mephedrone addiction →

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Spice addiction

Spice is a synthetic cannabinoid which often starts as a substitute for cannabis but can be far more addictive and dangerous. Addiction is marked by a strong physical dependency and withdrawal symptoms.

Spice addiction →

How to spot legal highs addiction symptoms

Sometimes, it can be hard to see when experimenting with legal highs has turned into addiction. However, asking yourself some straightforward questions can help to clarify the situation and point to the telltale legal high addiction symptoms:

  • Have I started using legal highs more often than I used to?
  • Am I spending more money on legal highs than I can afford?
  • Do I feel anxious or uncomfortable if I don’t have access to legal highs?
  • Have my friends or family members expressed concern about my use of legal highs?
  • Is obtaining and using legal highs becoming a central part of my day?
  • Do I feel like I can’t enjoy myself or relax without legal highs?
  • Have I tried to stop or reduce my use but found that I couldn’t?
  • Am I experiencing problems because of legal highs but keep using them anyway?

If these questions hit close to home, they may be signs of legal high addiction and highlight the need to seek out professional help. Remember, the sooner you take steps to address legal high addiction, the better your chances of a successful recovery.

Why are legal highs addictive?

Most legal highs contain chemical compounds which are inherently physically addictive. However, the risk of developing a full-blown addiction with a psychological reliance on legal highs often depends on a combination of factors. These underlying causes vary from person to person, but they are the reason that some people are more vulnerable to addiction than others. The risk factors for legal high addiction mirror those of other substances and include:

  • Genetic predispositions can make some individuals more likely to develop a legal high addiction, particularly if there is a family history of substance abuse.
  • Social and environmental influences, like easy access to legal highs or being in a peer group where drug use is normalised, can greatly increase your chances of experimentation and repeated use, which can lead to addiction.
  • Psychological factors such as trauma, stress and co-existing mental health conditions like anxiety or mood disorders also contribute to the risk of turning to legal highs for relief or escape.
  • Misinformation about the safety of these substances due to “legal” status can lead some people to underestimate their addictive potential.

Again, not everyone who has some or even all of these risk factors will become addicted to legal highs. Still, their presence can greatly increase the chances of legal highs abuse spiralling out of control.

Potential legal high addiction side effects

The term ‘legal highs’ belies the serious health and personal risks these substances pose, with effects that can be unpredictable and devastating:

Unknown chemical compositions
Legal highs often contain synthetic compounds that have undergone little or no testing for safety. Users may experience acute toxic reactions, unpredictable behaviour changes, severe organ damage and even fatal overdose as a result of ingesting these compounds.
Severe neurological impacts
Legal high abuse can cause profound alterations in brain function, leading to cognitive deficits, seizures and long-term psychiatric conditions such as severe anxiety disorders and psychosis.
Cardiovascular problems
Like many stimulants, legal high abuse can increase heart rate and blood pressure, putting users at risk for myocardial infarction and strokes. This stress on the cardiovascular system can be significantly compounded by the drugs’’ unpredictable purity and dosage.
Overall physical decline
Chronic legal highs abuse can lead to weight loss, nutritional deficiencies and immune system degradation, making the body more susceptible to infections and diseases.
Personal impacts
Legal high addiction can also take a major toll on every aspect of your personal life. You can find yourself in financial straits, failing school or losing your job, at odds with loved ones who are worried about your drug use and in serious legal trouble.

Effective treatment for legal high addiction

Legal highs can be deceptive with their risks, but like any addiction, effective treatments are available. Sanctuary Lodge’s legal high addiction treatment follows a three-stage plan to uncover and address the multi-faceted causes and consequences:

  1. Detox: Detoxing from legal highs involves medical supervision to break the physical aspect of addiction and mitigate withdrawal symptoms. Detox must be supervised because withdrawal can be unpredictable due to the unknown chemicals in legal highs.
  2. Rehab therapy: You will then engage in tailored rehab therapy sessions that address the underlying social, emotional and psychological causes of your addiction. This stage will help you to break the cycle and start fresh.
  3. Relapse prevention: The treatment journey then progresses to planning for long-term sobriety with relapse prevention strategies and our free aftercare programme.

Get help for legal high addiction today

Though the path may feel daunting, recovery from legal high addiction is within your reach. Sanctuary Lodge provides a safe environment where healing begins with understanding and is sustained through comprehensive care. Contact us today and take the first step to a future without legal highs.


What are other names for legal highs?
Legal highs are also commonly known as new psychoactive substances (NPS). They have various street names depending on their type and composition, including “Spice” for synthetic cannabinoids, “Bath Salts” for synthetic cathinones and “Meow Meow” for mephedrone. These names can vary widely and new ones appear as different compounds enter the market. Staying informed about these substances is important as their legal status and potential health risks can change.
Are legal highs illegal in the UK?
In the UK, legal highs, often referred to as “new psychoactive substances,” were made illegal in 2016 under the Psychoactive Substances Act. This law bans the production, distribution, sale and supply of substances that have psychoactive effects other than those that are specifically exempt, like alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. The name “legal highs” can, therefore, be misleading as many of these substances are now illegal to sell, even though some may still be found circulating on the black market.

(Click here to see works cited)

  • FRANK. “New Psychoactive Substances | Legal Highs.” FRANK, Accessed 29 April 2024.
  • UK-Rehab. “Information on The Effects & Causes of Legal High Addiction | UK Rehab.” UK-Rehab, Accessed 29 April 2024.
  • Garus-Pakowska, Anna et al. “The Scale of Intoxications with New Psychoactive Substances over the Period 2014-2020-Characteristics of the Trends and Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Example of Łódź Province, Poland.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 19,8 4427. 7 Apr. 2022, doi:10.3390/ijerph19084427
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