‘Legal Highs’ – novel and emerging psychoactive drugs: a chemical overview for the toxicologist

Gibbons, S. (2012) ‘Legal Highs’ – novel and emerging psychoactive drugs: a chemical overview for the toxicologist. Clinical Toxicology, 50 (1). pp. 15-24. 10.3109/15563650.2011.645952.

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DOI: 10.3109/15563650.2011.645952


Introduction. 'Legal highs' are psychoactive chemicals which are sold from 'head shops', the internet and from street suppliers and may be possessed without legal restriction. An increase in the marketing of these materials has resulted in a corresponding increase in published reports of their adverse effects. However, a lack of primary literature pertaining to their chemistry, pharmacology and toxicology, makes an evaluation of their harm difficult. This review covers the basic chemistry of these novel psychoactive compounds and relates them to endogenous neurotransmitters and existing drugs of abuse. Methods. A survey of the internet was used to identify websites that are marketing 'legal highs' in the UK. Trivial and systematic chemical compound names, for example methoxetamine, 4-methoxyphencycline, 4-fluorotropacocaine and ethyl phenidate were entered into PubMed to retrieve data on these compounds. This search elicited no citations. Other search terms which were more fruitful included desoxypipradrol, diphenylprolinol, methylenedioxy-2-amino-indane and methylenedioxy-2-amino-tetralin, alpha-methyltryptamine and 5-methoxy-N,N- diallyl-tryptamine. Results. 'Legal highs' from the phenylethylamine, cocaine, tryptamine and phencyclidine classes are increasingly being marketed and, in the majority of cases, little is cited in the literature on their true chemical identity, pharmacology or toxicology. Conclusions. 'Legal highs' are gaining in popularity and present clear challenges to toxicologists and society as a whole. Whilst improved use of existing legislation and development of new legislation can be used to reduce the supply of these materials, investment in better education for young people on the harms associated with 'legal highs' is needed.

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:Amphetamines; Cathinones; Cocaine; Herbal highs; Mephedrone; Neurotransmitters; PCP; Phenylethylamines; Tryptamines
Departments, units and centres:Department of Pharmaceutical and Biological Chemistry > Department of Pharmaceutical and Biological Chemistry
ID Code:3060
Journal or Publication Title:Clinical Toxicology
Deposited By:Library Staff
Deposited On:23 Mar 2012 11:42
Last Modified:23 Mar 2012 11:42

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