Awareness of Novel Drug Legality in a Young Adult Population

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In recent years, use of substances commonly referred to as ‘legal highs’ has become a significant concern to policy makers and public health officials. Though legislation banning the use and possession of these novel and synthetic drugs often follows the initial media attention and public outcry, potential users may often be unaware of the legislation. A survey including self-reported drug use and perceptions of the legality of various psychoactive substances was administered to 2,346 students in randomly selected classes at a large public university to determine what portion accurately knew four types of novel drugs were locally illegal. Results indicated that numerous potential and current users incorrectly believed that the former ‘legal highs’ remained unrestricted. This sample did include a number of novel drug users; lifetime use of at least one novel drug was reported by 17.1 %, many of which reported using multiple types of novel drugs. Approximately one-third of the overall sample inaccurately believed that Salvia divinorum (34.7 %), K2/Spice (36.5 %), and Mr. Miyagi/Pot-pourri (32.1 %) were legal in the state and over half (50.3 %) inaccurately believed ‘bath salts’ (synthetic cathinones, MDPV, and other synthetic stimulants) remained legal. As these misperceptions have the potential to influence substance use decisions, they may need to be corrected through educational campaigns as widespread as the preceding media coverage that labeled the drug as ‘legal highs.’ Results also indicated that Blacks and previous users of the substances were more likely to hold inaccurate legal beliefs.