Eight months ago the UK government banned so-called ‘legal highs’ under the Psychoactive Substances Act. The law was intended to stunt the trade of synthetic chemicals that reproduce the effect of traditional illegal drugs. According to the Office for National Statistics, deaths linked to new psychoactive substances (the catchy government-approved name for legal highs) rose from 82 in 2014 to 114 in 2015, so it’s easy to see why politicians wanted them banned so quickly.

After the first three months of the ban coming into force, nearly 200 people were arrested due to some form of involvement with legal highs. If nothing else, we can say for certain this has put an increased strain on our already creaky police department. Additionally, hundreds of shops have also shut down or stopped selling legal highs. So much for the government’s commitment to help small/local businesses.

The National Police Chiefs Council’s lead on New Psychoactive Substances, Commander Simon Bray, said in a press conference that nearly 14,000 nitrous oxide canisters (commonly known as laughing gas) had been seized by the Metropolitan Police since the introduction of the act on May 26th 2016. He said this in a rather glum-faced serious manner. Maybe he should have had some laughing gas before he went up to speak.

I can’t imagine the grade I’d get if I shit out a lab report without doing any background research

Before this new legislation was introduced, suppliers of legal highs could often skirt around existing rules by simply tweaking the chemical formula of the substance. Once upon a time, when the government was made aware of a new chemical composition they would outlaw that unique molecular structure. As a result, manufacturers would then simply tweak their product to bring it into line with the law. The government since has since become tired of this cat and mouse game, which has led to the introduction of the current legislation. Basically, “the law can’t be outwitted in that sense anymore because if it’s psychoactive, it’s psychoactive full stop”, said our old friend Commander Simon Bray. Therefore, this allows the police to criminalise vast swathes of young people under the blanket ban automatically. Perhaps not something very in touch with the democratic underpinnings of the United Kingdom.

It is notable that this doesn’t apply to alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes, which are exempt from the new ban, despite also having psychoactive effects. I would wager that the percentage of people that die due to alcohol or cigarette related deaths is vastly higher than the percentage of those who die from psychoactive substances. With this in mind would it not be logical to, you know, perhaps research them? Coming from Imperial College, an almost all-science university (Business School I’m looking at you), it is inherent to us to perform research. I can’t imagine the grade I’d get if I shit out a lab report without doing any form of background research, experimental research, or just any kind of research. But that appears to be the exact approach of the British government, you’d think that none of them studied a respectable degree. Oh wait. They didn’t. With the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Secretary of State for Health and Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice all having studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford this confirms my suspicions. When so many of the leaders of our country studied basically a degree in banter, it’s hardly surprising that they’re immune to the benefits, or methods, of research.

What do you expect when the Prime Minister has a degree in geography?

With the new law banning all psychoactive substances coming into effect only eight months ago we are yet to see its full effects. In all probability we will probably see a reduction in the usage of these drugs, however, cocaine has been banned for many decades and that stuff still hasn’t disappeared.

With the government continually waging an all-out war on drugs, it appears that we will never see the day when these potentially innovative substances could be used in research. But then again, what do you expect when the Prime Minister has a degree in geography?