Seddon (2014: 1019) observes ‘the repetitive andcyclical nature of drug problems, as supposedly ‘new’ phenomena turn out to berecurrences of wearily familiar issues.’ Over the last decade, emerging trends surroundingthe emergence of a ‘new’ phenomena in the form of new, psychoactive drugs thatwere sold legally on the open market has held a challenging and controversialconcern which evoked ‘familiar issues’, but also simultaneously triggering new uncertaintiesfollowing the influence of globalisation.
To understand the nature of thesesubstances, legal highs or new psychoactive substances (NPS) can fall underthree categories, synthetic hallucinogens, synthetic stimulants and syntheticcannabinoids. Synthetic hallucinogens can refer to drugs that mimic class Adrugs such as LSD and heroin, synthetic stimulants referring to bath salts that can cause similar effects as cocaine and synthetic cannabinoids referring to chemicals that can be marketed under brand names such as spice (Gray and Evans, 2012). To expand, the public attitudes inthe UK surrounding new psychoactive substances began to emerge when stimulantsubstances, such as mephedrone became a moral epidemic in 2009, which demonstrates how layers of drug scaremessages can be embedded by the media to shape a narrative to illustrate how thesesubstances are designed to produce similar effects toillegal drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy, which are threatening thelives of the youth (Alexandrescu, 2014). Prior to The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, the chemical ingredients ingrained in (NPS) were changed to act as a loophole fallingoutside any drug control, ultimately exploiting the legislationthat existed around substance misuse (Dignamand Bigham, 2017). The dramatic shift on the unprecedented nature ofthese substances eventually led to a change of attitude, which formed a growingbody of research that seeks to highlight the perceptions of these drugs lookinginto reasons for itsuse, risks involved, and how existing legislation impacted these perceptions (Power, 2013).
This has resulted in an overburdenedcriminal justice system and shifting to Hitchens (2012: 6) who states, ‘decriminalisation of drugs…
hasbeen so effectively camouflaged that most people do not know it has takenplace’ can fall to some truth in retrospect to the struggles of the UK government in trying to comprehendthe issue that consists around the unregulated use and health concerns inherentin mephedrone and other new psychoactivesubstances. This dissertation will critically evaluate existing literature,old and new, to understand how legal highs are presented. The aim of this dissertationis centred around the normalisation of legal high use among students, drawingon the extent as well as looking for in particular at the causing ofnormalisation in relation to The Psychoactive Substance Act 2016. In will firstdraw attention to the media, examining the different portrayals of legal highsin relation to the realities and myths, with reference to statistical evidenceand media reports of legal highs in order to stress whether a dominantstereotypical image has been sustained.
The study tries to develop thisfurther, not only by looking at the true extent of media portrayal, but alsofocusing on the works of Cohen (1972)who describes the media as a tool that fuels moral panic, which will help in directly examining the medias involvement for thecreation of The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. This will give support intoaddressing the effectiveness of the government policies on deterring legalhighs among students. Itwill also assess whether old themes can be added to understand new behaviours,by investigating the drug attitudinal change (UKDPC, 2017). For this reason, it will draw attention to thevalidity of Parker and his colleagues(1998) drug normalisation thesis in the attempt to re-examine these patterns of behaviours across different time periods to show the true extent of normalisation amount young students in the UK today.The extent of normalisation will be assed in accordance to these chapters; impactof legislation, reasons for use, risks involved, trying rates and a lessundertaken theme, the morality of legal highs.
In order to research these themes, secondary research is usedto identify the strengths and gaps in the existing research to enable referencefor future recommendations. These recommendations will be based from the drugpolicy in the UK and how they are currently being implemented. Additionally,there is currently little research centred around legal highs and how they fitinto the normalisation theory. Therefore, it looks beyond Parker et al (1998)focus on ‘soft drugs’ and examines how legal highs have sparked a rise in a newera of more dangerous use of hard drugs.