New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)

New Psychoactive Substances Factsheet

Local Early Warning System for NPS – please click here

UPDATE – NPS became illegal under new Government legislation at the start of April 2016


New Psychoactive Substances (so called ‘Legal Highs’ or ‘Chemical Highs’) are a growing trend nationally and in Sheffield. This factsheet is for professionals working with young people. It aims to:

  • Describe the substances currently available and being used in Sheffield.
  • Describe the effects of these substances on young people.
  • Describe the market for these substances showing how and where young people can access them.
  • Give harm reduction advice.
  • Give details of how to access further support from specialist services.

NPS Background

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are not recent, but have become prominent due to a range of complex factors, including: chemical technologies, market availability, internet supply, trends in substance misuse, price and social networking.

–       Close to 5% of people aged 15-24 in the EU have used NPS

–       10% of 15-to 24-year-olds in Britain have used an NPS at some time

  • 24 NPS appeared in 2009
  • 64 NPS appeared in 2010
  • 166 NPS appeared in 2011
  • 251 NPS appeared in 2012

…and so on

NPS, what they are and the associated issues

NPS are intoxicating substances which are developed to mimic the effects of established drugs of abuse. They are new chemicals so they evade legal restriction until legislation can be brought into force. As chemicals come under legal restriction new chemicals are developed to replace them.

Some hallucinogens are traditional plants used for intoxication. They are not novel chemicals; they are sold alongside other NPS. A recent development is that NPS have started to appear for sale in a few convenience stores, newsagents and in a petrol station in Sheffield.

Sales of NPS are a legal grey area. NPS products are branded as ‘Not For Human Consumption’ and are sold as plant food, bath salts, herbal incense and room odourisers amongst other things.

In Sheffield Substance Misuse Services, Police, Trading Standards and Safeguarding are working together to try and control the sale of NPS to children and young people.

NPS fall into three main categories:

Synthetic Cannabinoids

These drugs mimic cannabis.  They are synthesised chemicals which act on the same brain receptors as cannabis.

Appearance: these drugs look superficially similar to traditional herbal cannabis. They are inert plant material which is sprayed with chemicals to produce intoxication when smoked.

Synthetic Cannabanoids are usually sold in sealed, branded packets. Packets usually contain 1 to 3 grams and cost £10 to £25. They can be sold as ‘Pot Pourri’, ‘plant fertiliser’, ‘alloy wheel cleaner’, ‘bath salts’ and sometimes as ‘Herbal Smoking Mixture’.

Brands include Clockwork Orange, Haze, Annihilation, Spice, Doob and Blue Cheese. Many other brand names are used and new brands appear regularly.

Synthetic Cannabanoids are bought and sold on the internet and from high street vendors. Most sales happen in so called ‘Head Shops’. These shops sell drug using paraphernalia, items of clothing, e-cigarettes and NPS. There are five such shops in Sheffield at the moment including two market stalls.

Positive effects of Synthetic Cannabanoids include euphoria and relaxation.

Negative effect and risks include:

  • Potency. Synthetic Cannabanoids are often much more potent than herbal cannabis. This can lead to users smoking too much and experiencing adverse reactions.
  • Linked to this is dosage, the amount of Synthetic Cannabis needed for effects is a lot smaller than herbal cannabis.
  • Compulsion to redose (exacerbated by lower costs and greater availability)
  • Tolerance can grow quickly– more needed to achieve the same effects
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Heart palpitations
  • Anxiety/panic/paranoia/disorientation
  • Drug induced psychosis
  • Rashes
  • Loss of control to body parts
  • Collapse
  • There are recent reports of potential kidney damage.


These NPS mimic drugs like cocaine, amphetamines and MDMA (Ecstasy). As the name suggests they stimulate the central nervous system.

Appearance: stimulant NPS are sold as powders or pills. Powders are usually white or off white. Pills can be capsules or tablets and come in a variety of sizes and colours.

Stimulant NPS are sold in branded packets and usually cost £10 and up. Current brands include Gocaine, Rush, Ching, Poke and Blue Monster. Many others are available, branding changes frequently.

Positive effects of stimulant NPS include increase in energy, alertness, wakefulness and euphoria.

Negative effects include

  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite/weight loss
  • Anxiety/paranoia/psychosis
  • Palpitations/heart problems
  • Discolouration of limbs
  • Overheating
  • Seizure


These NPS mimic ‘trippy’ drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms. They can also mimic dissociative drugs like Ketamine. While they are widely available we are seeing fewer reports of use by young people than other NPS categories.

Appearance: these NPS are sold as powders and pills. They are also available as dried fungi, leaves, cactus and as seeds which can be crushed and eaten. They are packaged like other NPS.

Legal hallucinogens are sold under a variety of names. These include AMT, Salvia Divinorum, Hawaiian Woodrose Seeds, Fly Agaric Mushroom, Peyote and Peruvian Torch Cacti.

Positive effects include euphoria, altered consciousness, increased energy, empathogenic effects and subjective increases in creativity and aesthetic appreciation.

Negative effects can include:

  • Panic/disorientation/psychosis
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Muscle ache

Negative effects of AMT:

  • Very small amounts are an active dose. This increases the risk of overdose
  • Long onset – up to two hours. Can lead to re-dosing and overdose
  • Serotonin syndrome, especially if taken with medication such as SSRI anti-depressants.
  • Can be very long acting – 14 hours or more

Negative effects of Salvia Divinorum:

  • Fear, terror, panic
  • Dissociative at higher doses
  • Loss of body control
  • Risk of accident/injury
  • Potency varies widely

Misuse of Drugs: Temporary Class Drugs – from August 2011

A temporary class drug is a controlled drug within the meaning of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and other relevant legislation. Importation, exportation, production and supply of a temporary class drug will be prohibited without lawful authority. Offences committed under the 1971 Act in relation to a temporary class drug will be subject to maximum penalties of 14 years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine on indictment, and 6 months’ imprisonment and a £5,000 fine on summary conviction.

Simple possession of a temporary class drug is not an offence. However, law enforcement officers will have powers to seize and destroy a temporary class drug. The order will expire at the end of twelve months or earlier, if the temporary class drug is brought under the permanent control of the 1971 Act or the temporary class drug order is revoked.

What to do if someone is using them?

Reassure: they may not be used to the effects. Keep them calm and reassure it will be ok.

Educate: talk about the dangers of not knowing. Use varieties of harm-min. Explain the brain chemistry.

Explain: talk about the fact that these substances are mimics of other illegal drugs and the risks/dangers are exactly the same.

Refuel: encourage positive diet, sleep and planning for the come down

Harm Reduction Advice: Prior to and during use

Those who are intent on using novel psychoactive substances may be able to reduce some of the risks by following this advice:

  • Research the NPS. Plenty of info online and through local support services
  • Use tiny amounts and increase cautiously, potency varies considerably
  • If you have never used illegal drugs then  be mindful that you do not have anything to compare the effects to
  • Don’t trust the label. What it says on the packet is not necessarily what is in there
  • Avoid using if you have a history of mental health problems
  • Think of your mental state before you use. Don’t use in a bad/low mood
  • Don’t use alone. Use with people you can trust. Ideally with a friend who is not using NPS at the same time as you
  • Try and know type of NPS before using, i.e. stimulant, depressant, hallucinogen, etc (although this is not always possible, be prepared)
  • NPS are not necessarily legal
  • Remember that these substances are very new. No one knows their effects in the short or long term. You are a Guinea Pig!
  • Leave plenty of time before re-dosing
  • For Cannabanoids: It may be stronger at the bottom of the bag, be especially cautious with the last bits of compound in the packet
  • Don’t mix drugs including alcohol. This increases the risk of bad reactions and overdose
  • Seek medical help if you experience an adverse reaction
  • If you are worried about your use then contact a specialist substance misuse service. Help is available and it is confidential and free. Contact details at the bottom of the factsheet

Be aware of really negative feelings from the come down…

Harm Minimisation: After use

–         Diet on the comedown: Eat fruit and veg (particularly bananas)

–         Vaseline on the lips & chewing gum

–         Lube with condoms

–         Plan for the comedown! Get what you need in the house/your room as you might not want to go very far afterwards.

Where to get help

For under 18’s contact:

CRI Young People’s Substance Misuse Service  0114 2752051

Now you can get support from us through your local Community Youth Team. We support young people under the age of 18 and their families.

We also provide free advice, support and training for professionals who are working with young people.

CYT North – Millan Centre,

199 Longley Lane,

Sheffield S5 7JS

0114 2435597

CYT East – Unit C7

39/40 Allison Crescent

Sheffield S2 1AS

0114 2835927

CYT West – Old Sharrow Junior School

Southview Road

Sheffield S7 1DB

0114 205 7440

Or call the freephone number if you’re not sure where to ring : 0800 138 8381

For 18’s and over contact:

Likewise Sheffield  0114 3087000

More information:

AMCD report. (2011), Consideration of the New Psychoactive Substances (‘Legal Highs’):

Siegel (2005), Intoxication:  The Universal Drive For Mind-Altering Substances, Inner Traditions: Bear & co.

Compiled December 2013 by CRI: Sheffield’s Young People’s Drug and Alcohol Service