The emergence of mephedrone triggered a growing disquiet in the UK about ‘legal highs’: new psychoactive substances that have been manufactured and are made widely available in an uncontrolled and unregulated way to purchase in outlets and on the internet.
Unlike cocaine and ecstasy, which have been studied for decades, the effects of these new substances are unknown and untested. This uncertainty combined with easy accessibility presents a major challenge and a potential risk to public health and public order. And yet they are emerging almost weekly. The Daily Telegraph reported that data presented to the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs showed 40 new substances had emerged by the end of 2010, a new record.
In 2009, a previous record 24 new synthetic psychoactive substances were identified. There are now over 600 substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) in the UK. With the emergence of manufactured ‘legal highs’, this number is set to increase drastically.
As the MDA turns 40 years old this year, this report investigates whether twentieth-century drug control legislation is fit for the twenty-first-century drugs market.