‘Legal highs’ no longer legal

Person using a vape

On 26 May 2016, the Psychoactive Substances Act came into force making it an offence to manufacture, supply, import or export, any psychoactive substance if it is likely to be consumed for its mind-altering properties.

There are a number of exemptions which includes legal substances that are in everyday use such as nicotine, coffee, alcohol and medicines which are regulated elsewhere.

Legal highs are substances that have similar effects to banned drugs, such as cocaine or cannabis. They imitate the effects of legal drugs that are controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. They often contain ingredients which have never been used previously in drugs for human consumption and as such carry health risks.

Possession of a psychoactive substance is not in itself an offence, except where it occurs within a ‘custodial institution’ i.e. prison, youth offender institution.  Dealers in psychoactive substances face up to 7 years in prison. Police will have new powers to shut down ‘headshops’ and UK-based online dealers, helping to protect potential users from harm and communities from anti-social behaviour.


Laura Burnett

Laura Burnett, Employment Law Team Manager, says:


“Businesses need to be aware of what their policies say in relation to drugs. If the standard gross misconduct wording in handbooks or contracts of employment state “Being in possession of illegal drugs” then it would also include legal highs and therefore no revisions to their handbook should be necessary.”

Additional information

Trade in so-called ‘legal highs’ now illegal, 26 May 2016

Still unsure? If you are a client, please speak to our Employment Law advice line on 0845 844 4848 for any further questions or to discuss alternative commercial options.

If you are not yet a client, please call our specialist business team on 0845 844 1111 to find out how having access to the Citation Employment Law Advice Line could keep you compliant, save your business money and help you flourish.

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