Chasing The “Legal High”: Substances Abuse

By: Tyler Oberheim
A current trend that is making a come back in the substance abuse field is the commercialization of altered illicit substances in the United States. These substances, known as novel drugs, possess altered chemical structures that set them apart from their illicit counterparts which allows them to bypass regulatory control while providing similar effects to their illicit counterparts (Jerry, Collins, & Streem, 2012). The creation of these drugs has been stimulated in response to our current drug policies prohibiting the use of their illicit counterparts and we can be assured that there will continue to be an emergence of new drugs flooding the field of substance abuse as the years continue. Due to the growing concern of the public there has been an increase in legislation to attempt to regulate these novel substances (Hughes & Winstock, 2012). However, the legislation that is created does not keep the commercialization of novel drugs at bay because manufacturers quickly adapt to the change in legislation and create a new product that is not considered “illegal” (Vardakou, Pistos, & Spiliopoulou, 2010). This issue is further complicated by the fact that the sale of these drugs has been made easily accessible due to online access (Vardakou, Pistos, & Spiliopoulou, 2011).

A recent study demonstrated that the recent rise in the consumption of “legal high” drugs could be due to the fact that they do not receive as much media attention as does their illicit counterparts. The study conceptualized that this could lead consumers to be unaware of the illicit status of these novel drugs and cause them to misinterpret their availability as an indicator that these substances are legal (Singleton, Stogner, & Miller, 2014). Another explanation as to why the use of these substances has been on the rise could be due to their ability to not trigger a positive test result on ordinary drug screens. Since these substances do not take on the same chemical structure as their illicit counterparts it would require specialized lab testing and an idea of what the substance was for the lab to get an accurate test result. This could soon pose a problem for the legal system and corporate America because it will be difficult to accurately screen individuals on probation or individuals entering the workforce due to it not being cost effective. Individuals who are abusing these novel substances could be slipping through the cracks and getting away with getting high.


Jerry, J., Collins, G., & Streem, D. (2012). Synthetic legal intoxicating drugs: The emerging incense and bath salt phenomenon. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 79, 258?264.

Hughes, B., & Winstock, A. R. (2012). Controlling new drugs under marketing regulations. Addiction, 107, 1894?1899.
Singleton, M., Stogner, J. M., & Miller, B. L. (2014).Awareness of novel drug leagality in a young adult population. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 39, 425-435.

Vardakou, I., Pistos, C., & Spiliopoulou, C. (2010). Spice drugs as a new trend: Mode of action, identification and legislation. Toxicology Letters, 197, 157?162.

Vardakou, I., Pistos, C., & Spiliopoulou, C. (2011). Drugs for youth via Internet and the example of mephedrone. Toxicology Letters, 201, 191?195.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.