Legal high

Early warnings

Policy development in response to a dynamic drugs market

LJMU researchers have paved the way in generating evidence around the societal and health harms of using new psychoactive substances (popularly known as ‘legal highs’).

A new breed of synthetic drugs has emerged over the last decade; these are New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), not prohibited by law, but which people seek out to use to bring about subjective changes in perception, consciousness and mood.

Researchers from LJMU’s Public Health Institute and School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences formed an interdisciplinary partnership to take a holistic view of this highly dynamic drugs market. They published some of the first pharmacological data on the mechanism of action of a number of NPSs, and have tracked changes in the marketing and retailing of products. This is important in terms of understanding the potential adverse health effects of these drugs. These analyses have also facilitated exchange of reference standards among international laboratories.

The Public Health Institute also coordinates the UK arm of the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) European-wide Early Warning System (EWS) on new psychoactive substances. Its function is not only informed by forensic chemistry and pharmacology analyses, but also by monitoring online NSP user forums and shops, conducting surveys and capturing data from existing drug monitoring networks.

The EWS is a vehicle for LJMU's research findings to influence policy and practice at both national and international levels. The European Police Office (Europol) and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has included LJMU’s analytical research in risk profiles of synthetic hallucinogen drugs. In 2013 the substance 5-(2-aminopropyl)indole was subject to Europe-wide ban by the European Commission, a decision based in-part on LJMU research.

LJMU’s research has also directly informed the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD); Professor Harry Sumnall (Public Health Institute) is one of six academic members of this group. Significantly, using LJMU research identifying the illegal content of NPS, the ACMD has made recommendations to Government on options for controlling access to and the availability of NPS, and how harms from their use may be reduced.

Find out more about the research within the Public Health Institute and the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences.

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