Drugs and the Law

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, illegal drugs are placed into one of 3 classes - A, B or C. This is broadly based on the harms they cause either to the user or to society when they are misused.

alcoholThe class into which a drug is placed affects the maximum penalty for an offence involving the drug.

For example, Class A drugs attract the most severe penalty as they are considered likely to cause the most serious harm.

Drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act are illegal to have, produce, give away or sell.

  • Class A drugs include: heroin (diamorphine), cocaine (including crack), methadone, ecstasy (MDMA), LSD, and magic mushrooms.
  • Class B includes: amphetamines, barbiturates, codeine, cannabis, cathinones (including mephedrone) and synthetic cannabinoids.
  • Class C includes: benzodiazepines (tranquilisers), GHB/GBL, ketamine, anabolic steroids and benzylpiperazines (BZP).

cannabisNot all drugs are illegal, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t harmful. For example, tobacco and alcohol can seriously damage your health.

And recently new 'legal highs' have been developed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs like cocaine and ecstasy but are structurally different enough to avoid being classified as illegal substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act. However, they can still have dangerous side effects.

Some drugs do have a legitimate use, as a medicine, in research or in industry. To use, import or produce these drugs you need to obtain a licence from the Home Office.

Drugs & Alcohol


Legal Highs

Legal Highs’ are substances which produce the same, or similar effects, to drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy, but are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

They are considered illegal to sell, supply or advertise for “human consumption” under current medicines legislation. To get round this sellers will refer to them as research chemicals, plant food, bath crystals or pond cleaner.

There are a large number of legal highs, but here are a few key facts:

  • Just because a drug is legal to possess, it doesn’t mean it’s safe.
  • It is becoming increasingly clear that ‘legal highs’ are far from harmless and can have similar health risks to drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and speed.
  • Risks of ‘legal highs’ can include reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, coma, seizures, and death.
  • These risks are increased if used with alcohol or other drugs.
  • It is likely that drugs sold as a ‘legal high’ may actually contain one or more substances that are actually illegal to possess. What you may think is a legal high that you can’t get in trouble for having, could be something completely different, and in fact a class B drug.

Worried About Someone?

Not all drugs are addictive, and everybody that uses drugs doesn’t become dependent. When drug use becomes problematic it can lead to addiction and signs this has happen can include:

  • The need for regular use.
  • Constantly have drugs in their possession.
  • Strange and ‘out of character’ behavior
  • Mood Swings
  • Physical changes like Weight loss
  • Sometimes people don’t recognise their drug use has become a problem. They refuse to believe that they are addicted or dependent. If you think you think a friend has a problem and you want to help them, think about how you're going to approach it and what you’re going to say?

    It could be a sensitive subject for them and you don’t what to looking like you’re getting. They may not listen to you at first but don’t let this put you off. The best thing that you can do is to be there for them, to support and encourage them to change. You can also help by keeping your friend away from situations that can trigger or expose them to drug use.

    Some people are able to overcome their issues with drugs before any serious harm has been done to them, or their family and friends. Other users have to hit rock bottom before they can see the harm and damage they are doing and start addressing their drug use.