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Legal highs and study drugs


A legal high is a substance with stimulant or mood-altering properties. Despite the Psychoactive Substance Act that came in to force in May 2016 (whereby there is a blanket ban on the production, distribution, sale and supply of legal highs/psychoactive substances), the use of these drugs is not illegal in the UK. The Act includes ‘a substance that produces a psychoactive effect in a person if, by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, it affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state’. The fact that they are legal does not mean that they are safe. 

Drugs collectively known as ‘nootropics’ (also known as ‘study drugs’or ‘smart drugs’) such as Modafinil, and Adderall may be prescribed for serious medical conditions such as narcolepsy but some students are claiming these drugs help improve memory and attention span etc. Taking these drugs without having been assessed by a medical practitioner is not advisable. 


It is important when taking any drugs that you have a thorough understanding of the possible side effects. Being aware of the side effects and implications of taking legal highs or study drugs is important. 

Potential risks:

  • Inability to judge risk
  • Unintentional injury to self or others

  • Inappropriate behaviour

  • Exacerbated poor mental health (anxiety, paranoia, panic and confusion)

  • Exacerbated poor physical health, lower immunity

  • Disturbed sleep

  • Loss of routine

  • Diminished capacity for self-care and resilience


Warwick Student Union have published a helpful blog:

The Talk to Frank website contains information about what new psychoactive substances are, their effects, their risks and the law.

Home Office information Psychoactive Substances Act (2016)

NHS information and research:

United Nations World Drug Report. (2014)