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How do you solve the problem of legal highs

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18 June 2013, 11am: Free
at the James Hutton Institute, Dundee DD2 5DA
for scientists, researchers and other interested parties
Gillian Taylor

Dr Gillian Taylor from the School of Engineering at Teesside University will deliver this seminar "How do you solve the problem of legal highs" at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee on 18 June 2013. It will be broadcast live to the Aberdeen site.


Currently, it is estimated that over 300,000 16-24 year-olds (4.4% of their age group) have used legal highs within the past 12 months within the UK. Legal highs such as Charge+, Mojo, Snowberry and Magic are commonly available in head shops and over the internet.

Legal highs are substances which produce similar effects to drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy but are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act within the UK. Legal highs are, however, considered illegal under current medicine legislation if marked for human consumption, although they are often advertised as research chemicals, plant food, bath crystals or pond cleaner and clearly marked as ‘not for human consumption’ to circumvent legislation.

During the past four years, there has been an exponential increase in the number of legal highs being seized within the UK. One of the most well-known of these compounds is Mephedrone, a drug with no known medicinal use or application, and which received worldwide press coverage for its association with several deaths. Mephedrone was subsequently made a class B compound in the UK in April 2010.

Many legal highs contain commonly available chemicals such as caffeine, lidocaine and benzocaine. There is also evidence some legal highs are just compacted sand!

In this investigation legal highs were purchased from head shops in the UK at costs between £5.99 and £25. All legal highs were analysed using GC-MS for preliminary screening. Results showed that most legal highs comprised of only one or two common chemicals and were of a high purity. One of the most common chemicals found in the analysed legal highs was caffeine. Stable isotope analysis of compounds, such as those found in legal highs can aid the identification of manufacturing processes and geographical origin.


Gillian Taylor is currently a Senior Lecturer in Forensic and Analytical Chemistry in the School of Science and Engineering, Teesside University. Before coming to Teesside she studied at Newcastle University and was a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany. Gillian was also a Lecturer in Forensic Chemistry at the University of Cumbria.

Gillian has published in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters on a range of subjects from bone chemistry, geochemistry and stable isotope analysis methods. Generally, Gillian is interested in the functioning of the human body and how this is represented in the bone, bone analysis towards forensic and archaeological context. Thus her main research interests include: pathophysiology of bone, environmental changes to bone, stable isotope analysis of bone collagen and organic/inorganic analysis of bone.

Gillian has developed methods in investigation amino acids in bone, especially towards stable isotope application. Gillian also has an interest in the development of GC, HPLC methods, coupled with stable isotope analysis for a range of applications, including food authenticity, geographic tracing of drugs, environmental monitoring and bone analysis.

The seminar is being hosted by Professor Wolfram Meier-Augenstein.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.