In recent years, a new type of drug has entered the market: ‘legal highs.’ These are new psychoactive and illicit drugs that were not originally prohibited by law – hence their reputation as ‘legal.’ They included bath salts (cathinone), 2C-B, MCAT and synthetic stimulants, among others.
These novel psychoactive substances can be bought in a number of places like ‘head shops’, gas stations, and the internet. The accessibility and terminology used in relation to these types of drugs are what make them so ambiguous. They are manufactured from a range of chemicals and other components, often created to mimic the effects of more prolific drugs like cocaine, cannabis, and MDMA. The way these drugs try to replicate other substances is what gives them their other more-common name: ‘designer drugs.’
The ambiguity surrounding ‘legal highs’ is what makes regulation and monitoring so difficult. They are constantly evolving and there are a number of sub-classes to each type of drug. Certain forms that are made illegal, are then modified, technically making them a different and ‘legal’ substance. Manufacturers and dealers of this drug category are seemingly one step ahead of those trying to combat it. The unknown chemical element with each ‘batch’, is what makes understanding this drug type so challenging. One thing we do know is that they are incredibly addictive, and can have serious psychological and physical implications.
The most popular ‘designer drugs’ are MCATs, a replica of cocaine and MDMA, and spice drug, a synthetic version of cannabis. The major issue with these types of drugs is a common misunderstanding: just because they are supposedly ‘legal’ – even when they are not – does not mean they are less harmful. They are extremely dangerous both in the effects we know they can have, and the implications we are yet to see or understand. At Cornerstone, we offer proven addiction and substance use disorder treatment plans that make your or your loved ones’ recovery from synthetic drugs all the more manageable. With around-the-clock support from a team of medical professionals, we know what it takes to beat addiction. We are here to help you with yours.
What Do Synthetic Drugs Do?
These particular drugs are so dangerous because the consequences are largely unknown. There has been an increased number of reports outlining the real effects of this new form of psychoactive drug. They can make users feel extremely relaxed and detached from reality. They also, however, have the ability to make people feel anxious, paranoid, aggressive, and experience panic attacks. These are just some possible effects, but the true implications of each particular substance remain unknown, as there has been uncomprehensive testing. Medical professionals do not know the exact chemical make-up of each substance, which again makes regulating and combating these certain drugs a real struggle.
If addiction to psychoactive drugs is untreated, the consequences can escalate quickly. As users become more dependent, their social life, work-life, and private life will all suffer. There are also serious adverse effects on that person’s body and mind, and all of these implications may trigger secondary addictions to other substances or negative behaviors.
What Causes an Addiction to ‘Legal Highs’?
At Cornerstone, we see all addictions as part of a psychological process, known as ‘positive reinforcement.’ This is when a person is driven to do something when the outcome is positive. The positive effect – in this case, the ‘high’ is what motivates them to keep behaving in that certain way. With ‘legal highs’, the desired outcome is a state of relaxation, euphoria, confidence, and focus. If the person is unable to access this feeling naturally, it is likely they will continue to take these substances to achieve it. How people respond and manage to this pattern of behavior is most often the difference between an addiction and occasional or one-time use. Along with positive reinforcement, research studies have outlined a number of other factors, that can make a person more prone to ‘legal highs’:
- If a close or immediate family member struggles with substance abuse, their behavior may be normalized or encouraged.
- If someone is struggling with mental health, they may turn to ‘legal highs’ as a way of negating the symptoms of something like depression or anxiety.
- ‘Legal highs’ may be used to mask the struggles of a traumatic experience. This may include divorce, bereavement, or unemployment.
Symptoms of New Psychoactive and Illicit Substance Addiction
The signs and symptoms of these new psychoactive drugs are wide-ranging, and each effect will vary with every drug. To combat the early stages and address some uncertainty, we have put together a list of general signs and symptoms that would suggest you or a loved one may be suffering from addiction. These include:
- An increased tolerance to ‘legal highs’, that requires a need to take more and more often to reach the same ‘high’
- Feeling compelled to take ‘legal highs’
- A continued dependence on these drugs, even when made aware of the negative consequences
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop, cut down, or being unable to access ‘legal highs’
- Remaining isolated instead of attending social occasions
- Neglecting responsibilities and self-care
- Impaired ability to complete everyday, cognitive tasks
- Irregular sleeping patterns, along with intense and vivid nightmares
- Only spending time with people who use ‘legal highs’
- Significant weight loss or gain, due to a fluctuating appetite
- Noticeable behavior change
Different Types of Novel Psychoactive Substances
New psychoactive and illicit drugs can be categorized under one of four classifications: Stimulant addictions, tranquilizers, synthetic hallucinogens or psychedelic addictions, and synthetic cannabinoid addictions. These all have different effects and consequences, so it is important to try and understand how they differentiate.
These ‘legal highs’ were designed to replicate the effects of amphetamines, cocaine, and MDMA. These include feelings of elation, confidence, energy, and focus, with the most well-known substance being mephedrone (MCAT). These initial positive sensations can soon become unpleasant and unbearable. They include:
- Panic, anxiety, and depression
- Paranoia, in this case, is a feeling like someone is watching or plotting against you
- Depleted immune system
- Problems with the heart and nervous system
- Lowered inhibition and lack of awareness
- Uncontrolled and often agitated speech
Tranquilizers or ‘downer’ addictions
More commonly known as ‘downers’, tranquilizer addictions are designed to mimic the effects of benzodiazepines, like Valium. These include feelings of relaxation, sleepiness, and joy. A common ‘legal high downer’ is gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), which can cause the following symptoms:
- Delayed responses
- Lack of focus
- Motor coordination impairment
- Difficulty retaining information
- Falling unconscious, into a coma, or in some cases dying. This happens when these substances are combined with other ‘downer’ drugs or alcohol
Hallucinogen or psychedelic addictions
These are created as a cheaper alternative to drugs like 2C-B, LSD, and ketamine. They can cause intense hallucinations and distort surroundings, time and reality. The most common types are NBOMe, or ‘N-Bomb’ and Methoxetamine, and symptoms include:
- Intense joy
- A feeling of dissociation between the mind and body
- Fear and anxiety
- Unpredictable and irrational behavior
- Poor decision making and a lack of awareness
Synthetic cannabinoid addictions
The most well-known drugs in this category are ‘Spice’, ‘Clockwork Orange’, and ‘Black Mamba.’ These are all designed to replicate the effects of cannabis, with feelings ranging from relaxation to periods of intense energy. Other symptoms include:
- Looking ‘zombie-like’, especially after consuming the spice drug
- Damage to the central nervous system
- Induced seizures
- High heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure
- Increased perspiration
- Anxiety and panic
These particular substances are difficult to monitor as they are often sold in ‘harmless’ packaging, or labeled as plant food. This is of course to avoid detection, but do not be fooled by harmless marketing – these are illegal and incredibly harmful.
Self-Help Tips for Dealing with New Psychoactive and Illicit Substance (‘Legal High’) Addiction
The first steps of any addiction are usually the hardest. Coming to terms with your issue is challenging and sometimes it is difficult to know what to do next. Here are some useful suggestions that will help you through the early stages of addiction:
- Be open and honest about how much and how often you are taking ‘legal highs’
- Accept what was once an apparently harmless relationship with ‘legal highs’, has now become problematic and you are no longer in control
- Make initial changes in your life to avoid negative influences. This may involve not seeing people who have previously encouraged or enabled your use of ‘legal highs’
- Prepare to make lasting changes, so you optimize your entire treatment process and maintain recovery
- Accept that beating your addiction is challenging and requires cooperation from you every step of the way
New Psychoactive and Illicit Substance (‘Legal High’) Addiction Treatment
Like all of our cases of drug addiction, treatment usually lasts around 28-days. During this time, patients take part in an intensive residential program at our treatment center. We understand that every addiction is unique. Each person responds differently to their particular treatment program, and their specific substance. Therefore, every treatment and recovery procedure will vary, depending on that specific individual. Following assessments from our team of medical professionals, we are given a much clearer idea of how long your treatment will last.
At Cornerstone, new psychoactive drug addiction is built upon a 12-step addiction treatment model. This is modeled around the Alcoholics Anonymous organization’s (AA) abstinence program, but also takes into account the specific needs of each patients’ unique circumstances. At Cornerstone, our patients are always at the heart of all treatment programs. The 12-step program is a recovery plan, directed by a set of guiding values and beliefs. These all focus on challenging addictive and toxic behavior; underpinned by spiritual influences that teach both self-worth and humility.
Cornerstone’s ‘legal high’ drug treatment program consists of:
- A complimentary, optional drug addiction assessment. These are carried out in confidential and non-judgmental spaces, so you always feel comfortable
- An optional 7 to 10-day withdrawal detox. This consists of evaluation, stabilization, education and approved medical assistance, where necessary
- One-to-one and structured group therapy programs
- Information to seek legal support
- Licensed recovery homes for post-treatment
We also offer high-quality day treatment or outpatient treatment programs, for those who do not wish to take part at our residential facilities. The ‘legal high’ drug treatment program can be used as a first admission point, or for someone who has gone through an intensive residential program, looking to reduce the quantity and intensity of treatment. How you use our ‘legal high’ treatment program, is dependent on the nature of your addiction and the support that you feel is best suited to your needs.
Our customer service team is available 24 hours a day, every day of the week. They are on hand to deliver professional support to those who find themselves in crisis. We offer immediate stabilization procedures and easy access to withdrawal detoxification.