What are 'legal highs' made of?

20th May 2011

The UK is being swamped by brand new legal recreational drugs, with four times as many introduced here last year than in any other European country.

With many of these ‘legal highs’ being manufactured in the Far East and then sold in the UK, most of them are untested and so potentially unsafe. Here’s a rundown of three of them:

Scientific name: 5,6-Methylenedioxy-2-aminoindane

Slang names: MDAI, Sparkle, Woof Woof

What does it do?
This drug increases the level of serotonin in your brain, which can make you feel happy and more in tune with everyone around you.

Is it dangerous?
Although MDAI is used in research as a non-neurotoxic version of the illegal drug MDMA, it is not approved for human consumption as very little is known about its effects.

Scientific name: Salvia divinorum

Slang names: Salvia, Holy Sage, Mexican Magic Mint

What does it do?
This plant has been used for hundreds of years by Mexican shamans to induce strange hallucinations, but has only recently made its way into the UK.

Is it dangerous?
There have been reports of people injuring themselves while experiencing unpleasant hallucinations after taking this drug.

Scientific name: Catha edulis

Slang names: Khat

What does it do?
Khat is a plant that has an active ingredient called cathinone, which is a stimulant similar to amphetamines. When someone chews khat, the amount of adrenaline their body releases will increase and they become very excitable and talkative.

Is it dangerous?

Khat can be psychologically addictive, make you anxious or aggressive, and has a number of potentially fatal side-effects for long-term users.

By Ruth Norris