UK Government

Home Office: Banned - GBL and other 'legal highs'

Press Release   •   Dec 23, 2009 10:32 GMT

A range of former so called ‘legal highs’ including GBL, BZP and man-made chemicals sprayed on herbal smoking products such as ‘Spice’ are now illegal, Home Secretary Alan Johnson announced today.

As part of the government’s commitment to tackle the emerging threat of so called ‘legal highs’, the substances now banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 include:

- Chemical solvent GBL (Gamma-Butyrolactone) and a similar chemical – which are converted into GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) in the body and often used as ‘club drugs’ – are now controlled as Class C drugs when intended for human consumption;

- Synthetic cannabinoids – man-made chemicals sprayed on herbal smoking products such as ‘Spice’, which act on the body in a similar way to cannabis but can be far more potent, are now controlled as Class B drugs alongside cannabis; and

- BZP (Benzylpiperazine) and related piperazines, which are stimulants, similar to amphetamine, are now controlled as Class C drugs.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said:

"We are cracking down on so called ‘legal highs’ which are an emerging threat, particularly to young people. That is why we are making a range of these substances illegal from today with ground- breaking legislation which will also ban their related compounds. 

"We are sending out a clear message to anyone who is thinking about experimenting with them, particularly over the festive period, that not only are they putting themselves in danger they will also be breaking the law."

Tim Hollis, Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead on drugs, said:

"Police are all too well aware of the harms caused in local communities, particularly to young people, by these drugs and we support the decision taken by the Home Office to clearly spell this out.

"Enforcement will be proportionate and will focus particular attention on those who traffic in drugs and put people at harm. Practical advice has already been circulated to forces to support them in this respect. We want people to enjoy the festive season without exposing themselves to unnecessary risk by taking what are potentially dangerous substances."

The government continues to raise awareness of the dangers of psychoactive substances via the FRANK campaign.

In addition, 15 anabolic steroids, testosterone-like products often used by sports people and increasingly being used by the general public for their growth promoting properties, are to be controlled as Class C drugs, alongside two growth promoters.

The control of these substances follows advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). Following receipt of their advice and after consulting with industry on those substances which have legitimate use, the government announced its intention to bring these substances under control using the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The ACMD continue to look at the use of so called ‘legal highs’ as a priority and will report back to the government on the cathinones in 2010.


1. Gamma-Butyrolactone (GBL) and its like chemical 1,4-Butanediol (1,4-BD) are converted into GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) in the body. GBL is a colourless, oily liquid with a weak odour.  Both substances can reduce inhibitions, cause nausea, reduced heart rate and even lead to death. Both are particularly dangerous when taken with alcohol and other depressant substances. Options for control of these substances were subject to public consultation which finished on 13 August. The government’s decision to control GBL and 1,4-BD for human consumption takes fully into account the wide use of these chemicals for legitimate purposes.The ACMD’s advice can be found at

2. Benzylpiperazine (BZP) and related piperazines are man-made stimulants which have similar but less potent properties to amphetamine. They can cause a rush of energy, agitation, vomiting and headaches. They can come in many shapes and forms, including pills and powders. Control of these substances was subject to public consultation which finished on 13 August. The ACMD’s advice can be found at

3. Synthetic cannabinoids are man-made chemicals that mimic the psychoactive effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in cannabis. They can be sprayed on herbal smoking products such as ‘Spice’.  The ACMD advice, published on 12 August, can be found at

4. Anabolic Steroids – details of the 15 steroids and two growth promoters and ACMD’s advice are available at

5. Oripavine, an alkaloid found in poppy straw of the opium poppy which can be converted into thebaine and used in the production of semi-synthetic opiates, is also controlled under the 1971 Act as a Class C drug in accordance with our international obligations. There is presently no evidence of its misuse in the UK. The ACMD advice can be found at

6. So called ‘legal highs’ are psychoactive substances that are taken to achieve an altered state of mind (a “high”), that are not currently controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. However, most of these substances are illegal to sell, supply or advertise for human consumption under medicines legislation because of their effects on the body. To view the March 2009 commissioning letter from the then Home Secretary to the ACMD on so called “legal highs” and other areas see

7. A drug is brought under control of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 by an Order made by the Privy Council following approval of the Order by both Houses of Parliament via the affirmative resolution procedure. Summaries of the public consultations completed earlier this year in relation to some of these drugs are available at

8. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) is a non-departmental public body established by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The ACMD provides independent expert advice to ministers on drug misuse - primarily to the Home Office, but also to other government departments. To view the ACMD’s advice to government visit

9. For details of the government’s drug strategy visit

10. For further information please contact the Home Office Press Office on 020 7035 3535


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