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Published: 15 November 2011

Not so ‘legal highs’

The term ‘legal highs’ is used as an umbrella term for psychoactive substances not controlled by drug laws. Describing these substances as ‘legal’ can be incorrect or misleading to customers, as many of them may be covered by medicines or food safety law.

Under the European product safety directive, producers are obliged to put only safe products on the market. Under reasonably foreseeable conditions of use, a product should not ‘present any risk or only the minimum risks compatible with the product’s use, considered to be acceptable and consistent with a high level of protection for the safety and health of persons’, taking into account its characteristics, the labelling, any warnings and instructions for its use. Perhaps in response to this, online shops are increasingly displaying health warnings about their products. Under the directive, distributors must also inform the competent authorities of serious risks, and the distributors’ actions for their prevention. Offences can be punishable by imprisonment.

In Europe, selling a new drug is no more ‘legal’ than selling any other untested, mislabelled product. Examples of measures against the sale of ‘legal highs’ based on consumer protection regulations include the confiscation of ‘Spice’ and mephedrone from suppliers in Italy and the United Kingdom on the basis of inappropriate labelling. Also, in 2010 in Poland, 1 200 ‘head shops’ were closed down by the health inspectorate.

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The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU's decentralised agencies. Read more >>

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Page last updated: Friday, 28 October 2011