Recently, there has been an explosion of novel psychoactive substances (NPS) for sale on the internet. Many are banned in the UK but new substances designed to evade existing legislation, so-called ‘legal highs’, are appearing all the time and are easily obtainable.

Legal highs

While labelled as ‘not for human consumption’ and sold as plant food, bath salts or research chemicals, they target the recreational drug use market. NPS are designed to produce effects similar to recreational drugs, and unsurprisingly, there are often reports of serious medical incidents associated with their use.


Dr Mark Baron, Principal Lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, has developed new methods for the analysis of NPS, including fast gas chromatography-mass spectrometry screening and rapid chemical tests based on the formation of distinctive microcrystals. Using these methods, Dr Baron discovered that a number of NPS purchased from the internet do not contain the legal substance advertised and often contain illegal substances.

This research has the potential to pave the way for further legislation to regulate potentially harmful stimulants, prevent the supply of banned substances and decrease the number of harmful medical incidents resulting from the use of NPS.