What are New Psychoactive Substances?

New or Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are drugs designed to mimic the effects of other drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine. Terms like “legal highs” and “designer drugs” refer to drugs that are considered new psychoactive substances.

What does the Law say?

The Psychoactive Substances Act came into force on the 26th May 2016. It is now a crime to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, import or export any NPS. Possession is not an offence.

A lot of drugs thought of as “legal highs” are already controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act; this includes Mephedrone and GBL/GHB.

What do NPS do to me?

The effects of NPS can be classed in the same way as more traditional recreational drugs; stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens.

Stimulants (mephedrone) make you feel full of energy and confidence. Depressants (GBL/GHB) relax you and hallucinogens (ketamine) distort your ability to view reality and can give you hallucinations.

As NPS are “new drugs” they are not as well understood as some other drugs that have been around longer. This means the exact short, medium and long term effects of taking them are not yet known.

What are the risks of taking NPS?

It doesn’t matter if you’ve bought NPS drugs online, from a shop you know or a friend. Like any drug you can never be 100% sure what is in them or how they will affect you each time you take them. These risks are even greater with NPS because many of them are so new we don't know all of their potential effects yet. And just like recreational drugs the risks are higher if you combine them with alcohol or other drugs.

NPS have been shown to cause paranoia, seizures, coma and have been linked, in a very small number of cases, to drug related deaths.

What about NPS and my sexual health?

It is true that sometimes taking drugs can contribute to increased risk of STIs and HIV because people can feel less inhibited and possibly make choices or engage in activities they might not normally choose when sober.

In our own FAQ Scotland report men told us they worry about not remembering exactly what they have done when they mix sex and drugs. Men also told us they think using drugs can affect the decisions they make about sex.

This can lead to more risky behaviours, including having sex when you might otherwise not. In these situations you might not use a condom when you would normally, or damage the condom while putting it on or during sex.

If you feel that your recreational drug use is affecting your sexual health, you can speak to the staff at the Steve Retson Project.  

Taking certain NPS drugs and having sex is referred to by some men as “Chemsex”.

What About PrEP?

PrEP is the name given to medicines that can be taken by someone who is HIV negative to reduce their risk of becoming infected with HIV. PrEP needs to be taken regularly and as instructed to keep the level of drug high enough to prevent infection. If PrEP isn’t taken as instructed the level of medication may not be high enough to stop HIV infection.

PrEP is not a catch-all safer sex strategy, PrEP only protects against HIV infection. You could still get other STIs like gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia. As condoms are still the best way to prevent these and other STIs we recommend that you use condoms too.

You can find out more about PrEP in our PrEP FAQ section, including how it works, the eligibility criteria and how to make an appointment to talk to us about PrEP.

What can I do if I feel I need help with my NPS use?

If you feel that NPS use is beginning to affect your physical or mental health it is important to speak to someone about it. You can speak to anyone you trust and feel comfortable discussing the issue with; it could be a friend, family member or a health professional.

You can speak to someone at Steve Retson Project if you feel able to or we can help you find the right service to provide support.

You can contact us by calling 0141 211 8130 to make an appointment at one of our clinics.

There are a range of ways in which people take NPS. If you inject NPS, you might want to look at this leaflet produced by the Scottish Drugs Forum