Call us anytime (714) 547-5375

Psychoactive and Illicit Substance Addiction

In recent years there has been an emergence of new psychoactive and illicit drugs. Some of these drugs, like Kratom, when they first appeared they were known as “legal highs”, they are intoxicating natural or synthetic substances that were not prohibited by law. Many of these substances are widely available on the internet, at “head shops,” and at gas stations.

These drugs are manufactured from a range of chemicals and substances, and have avoided comprehensive testing which allow understanding of what physical and psychological reactions will take place after consumption. ‘Legal highs’ are often very easy to find and can alter one’s state rapidly.

New psychoactive substances are now illegal to make, sell or traffic for human use, regardless if it is for personal use. They are sometimes known as ‘designer drugs’, as they are created in order to replicate drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and MDMA. The most popular designer drugs are MCAT, a replica of cocaine and MDMA, and Spice, a synthetic version of cannabis. Both drugs carry high risks of addiction, alongside serious psychological and physical damage and even death for those who regularly use them.

A common misunderstanding exists around ‘legal highs’ which most likely contributed to their popularity. People may believe because they are not illegal, they are not harmful, or as harmful as illegal drugs. However this is not the case, and there have been increased reports about the damage being caused to people who have abused new psychoactive drugs. As previously mentioned, there has been no rigorous testing on these drugs, so the effects, both short and long-term are mostly unknown. Furthermore, medical professionals do not know exactly what the substances contain, or their chemical make-up, so are not able to provide a suitable response if a person has an adverse reaction or overdose.

Cornerstone understands that leaving new psychoactive substance addiction left untreated can run a high risk of the situation escalating over time, and having a significant impact on a person’s social, work and private life as well as causing serious problems for their mental and physical health. Addiction to new psychoactive substances can also lead to secondary addictions such as to alcohol, other drugs or behavioral addictions.

New Psychoactive and Illicit Substance (‘Legal High’) Addiction Treatment

Cornerstone’s new psychoactive drug addiction treatment program typically consists of an intensive 28-day residential program which takes place at our treatment center where you will stay, following assessments from both our drug addiction specialists, and psychiatrists. However, we do not set rigid time limits, the duration of your stay will depend entirely on the severity and nature of your addiction and on what commitments and responsibilities you may have.

New psychoactive drug addiction treatment at Cornerstone is built upon the 12-step addiction treatment model; based on abstinence from the Alcoholics Anonymous organization (AA). This treatment ideology is based on empirical evidence and is bespoke to each person’s needs, circumstances. The philosophy behind the 12-step program is to focus motivation for recovery beside a set of guiding values and beliefs, challenging addictive and toxic behaviors and thought processes that fuel addiction, underpinned by spiritual influences that teaches both humility and self-worth.

Cornerstone’s ‘legal high’ drug treatment program consists of:

  • A complimentary, optional drug addiction assessment to allow confidential and non-judgemental discussion of any concerns and to learn what treatments are available, and best suited for your needs, based on the information you share
  • An optional 7 to 10 day withdrawal detox with medical assistance, consisting of evaluation, stabilization and education; following detox anti-craving medications can be administered
  • 1 on 1 and structured group therapy programs
  • Couples and family therapy
  • Information to seek legal support
  • Licensed recovery homes for post-treatment

If, for whatever reason you would prefer not to take part in a residential treatment program, we also provide high quality treatment programs for day treatment, or outpatient treatment, depending on your unique needs.

Cornerstone’s ‘legal high’ drug treatment options can be used either as a first admission point into treatment, or as you begin to reduce the quantity and intensity of treatment for those who have gone through an intensive residential program; this will largely depend on the severity and nature of your addiction and the style of support you feel is necessary.

What types of ‘legal high’ addictions are treated at Cornerstone?

On the whole, new psychoactive and illicit drugs can be categorized under one of four classifications, which have a range of effects and consequences, such as:

Stimulant addictions

These types of legal highs were created to replicate the effects of amphetamines, cocaine and MDMA, inducing feelings of elation, confidence, energy and focus. The most commonly known is mephedrone, otherwise known as “MCAT”. Despite the positive sensations experienced, these types of drugs can also cause;

  • Lowered inhibition and lack of awareness
  • Speaking rapidly which can be difficult to follow
  • Panic, anxiety and depression
  • Disorientation
  • Feeling like someone is watching, following or plotting against you
  • Reduced immune system leading to illnesses
  • Issues with the heart and nervous system

Tranquilizers or ‘downer’ addictions

Tranquilizers, or more commonly called ‘downers’ are created to mimic benzodiazepines like Valium, eliciting feelings of relaxation, sleepiness and joy. Common ‘legal high downers’ include gamma hydroxybutrate (GHB) and can cause the following symptoms:

  • Inability to focus or pay attention
  • Delayed responses
  • Fatigue
  • Motor coordination impairment
  • Difficulty retaining information
  • Anxiety
  • Falling unconscious, into a coma or dying; this is especially risky if these substances are combined with other ‘downer’ drugs or consumed with alcohol

Hallucinogen or psychedelic addictions

These types of drug, such as NBOMe, or ‘N-Bomb’ and methoxetamine are created as an alternative to drugs like LSD and ketamine for their hallucinogenic nature, they cause the user to hallucinate and significantly distorts surroundings, time and reality. In addition, these drugs can cause;

  • Intense joy
  • A feeling of separation between the mind and body
  • Disorientation
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Unpredictable and irrational behavior
  • Self-harm
  • Lack of awareness of surroundings, poor decision making

Synthetic cannabinoid addictions

Drugs such as these include ‘Spice’, ‘Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Black Mamba’; they are designed to mimic the effects of cannabis and provide a range of effects from relaxation and tranquility to high energy and impaired sense of reality. In addition, they can also cause a person to experience;

  • Being in a stupor, the person will look completely vacant, akin to a ‘zombie’, very often found after consuming spice, in particular
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Induced seizures
  • High heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure
  • Perspiration
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Aggression

Synthetic cannabis substances are often packaged and sold in bright, colorful packets that often look harmless, or marketed as plant food or incense, in order to avoid being identified for its intended purpose. Despite this façade, they are not legal and are incredibly harmful.

Other symptoms of new psychoactive and illicit substance addiction may include:

  • Developing a tolerance to the substance, resulting in a need to take more, and more often to experience the same ‘high’ as originally found
  • Feeling compelled to take ‘legal highs’
  • Persisting on taking these substances despite the negative consequences of doing so
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop, cut down or unable to use ‘legal highs’
  • Erratic moods, feeling depressed, anxious, petulant or panicky based on whether you can consume the drugs
  • Avoiding socializing, even with close family or friends, preferring isolation
  • Neglecting responsibilities and self-care
  • Impaired cognitive functioning on every day tasks
  • Inability to fall or stay asleep, experiencing intense and life-like nightmares
  • Dedicating time only to those who also use ‘legal highs’
  • Significant weight loss or gain as a result of fluctuated appetite according to drug use
  • Noticeable change in behavior

What causes an addiction to ‘legal highs’?

At Cornerstone we understand that addictions cultivate through a psychological process called “Positive Reinforcement”; which means a person is driven to continue patterns of behavior due to a positive outcome as a result; if what we do feels good, we will continue to do it, on the whole.

Taking ‘legal highs’ offers positive reinforcement in the form of the “high”; a person can feel relaxed, confident, euphoric, focused or able to go without food or sleep, thereby feeling more able, likeable and proactive. If the person taking these drugs achieves the altered state they were seeking, it is probable they will continue to take it if they don’t feel able to achieve that state naturally, and eventually rely on the drug for that feeling. This pattern of behavior is what differentiates an addiction to ‘legal highs’, from occasional or one-time use.

In addition to positive reinforcement, research studies signifies a number of other factors which can make a person more prone to addiction to ‘legal highs’, such as;

  • If a close or immediate family member struggles with substance abuse, the behavior may be normalized or encouraged
  • If a person is already struggling with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, the user may feel compelled to control the symptoms by using ‘legal highs’
  • If a person has experienced a traumatic or stressful life event such as divorce, bereavement or unemployment they may be attempting to mask the struggles with drugs

Self-help tips for dealing with new psychoactive and illicit substance (‘legal high’) addiction

It can be difficult to know where to begin when seeking recovery; below are some useful suggestions to support the early stages of new psychoactive drug addiction:

  • Be open and honest with people you love about the amount of ‘legal highs’ you take, and how often
  • Accept that ‘legal high’ use has become problematic and you are no longer in control of how much or how often you take them
  • Make initial changes in your life to avoid negative influences and people that have historically enabled or triggered the use of ‘legal highs’
  • Begin to prepare to make significant changes in order to engage in treatment and maintain recovery from addiction to ‘legal highs’
  • Accept that the process of change is challenging and requires motivation and dedication

Crisis Care

Cornerstone’s customer service team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, delivering excellent, prompt support to those in crisis.

Our drug addiction specialists are there to support those in urgent need of stabilization, providing immediate assistance and providing access to withdrawal detoxification, assisted by a medical professional when necessary.


Our former clients say it best...

Dr. Stone, I am so grateful to your program and also your generosity. I was a hopeless addict who believed there was no way of getting clean. Thanks to my sister and Cornerstone staff, I recently took my 90 day chip in N.A. Thanks, my life has been changed.
~ Isaac C.

“This was the best foundation I could have asked for to be sober. My case manager was the Best!! She showed me your life can be exciting and sober.”
~ Tina H.

It is the truly caring staff that makes Cornerstone the best rehab I have been to. The best part was finally getting my depression medications right, after many others tried for 2 years.
~ Jim V.

Licensed and Certified by the State of California Department of Healthcare Services.​

Joint Commission Logo
DHCS Approved to Provide Medication Assisted Treatment Logo
DHCS California Department of Health Care Services Logo Monitored Logo

We're here any time of the day to talk

Call us and speak to one of our caring addiction counsellors.

24 Hour Help (714) 547-5375

Scroll to Top