Report on lethal use of legal highs

Data published by the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths (NPSAD) has highlighted the increase in drug related deaths due to the use of ‘legal highs’ commonly referred to as Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS).

The presence of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) in toxicology tests performed for post mortem examinations indicated the prevalence of NPS has increased 800% over three years (2009 – 2012).

Cansford Laboratories presented the increasing incidence of one NPS, Mephedrone (Meow Meow) use at the Society of Hair Testing in Toronto during 2012 (press here for link). Previously, we reported an increase in the number of samples testing positive for Mephedrone (press here for link).

From Cansford laboratory’s data, we are noticing an increasing number of samples testing positive for Amphetamines, with Mephedrone still being positive in around 10% of samples which are analysed for the drug.


The report on NPS also highlights the increasing prevalence of Ketamine derivatives. In samples which have been analysed for the presence of Ketamine, we have experienced a positivity rate of around 43%. The data discussed in this article all relate to our family law cases, as such the relatively high proportion of samples which are positive for Ketamine could be due to known usage of the drug, as a consequence the presence of Ketamine in a hair sample could be expected.

Poly-drug use

Whilst the analysis of samples for single specific drug groups can be seen as a cost saving measure, the danger is that poly-drug use can be missed. The report comments on the recent rise in the use of Opiates together with other substances in drug-related deaths. The analysis of the Opiates group in isolation could mask poly-drug use in an individual.

The production and supply of legal highs is not an issue which is going to disappear overnight, however, with reports such as the NPSAD report in the public domain, the dangers of NPS together with more “traditional” drugs of abuse can be highlighted.

If you require any further information on the services which Cansford Laboratories are able to offer, including the analysis of Mephedrone and Ketamine in hair or oral fluid, do not hesitate to contact us on 02920 682 031 or send us an email to

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