The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which received Royal Assent on 28 January 2016, came into force on 26 May 2016.
The Act makes it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, import or export any psychoactive substance if it is likely to be consumed for its mind-altering properties. There is a list of exemptions, which includes legal substances that are in everyday use, such as nicotine, coffee and alcohol, and medicines, which are regulated elsewhere.
The substances targeted by the Act usually contain one or more chemical substances which, when consumed, imitate the effects of illegal drugs controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Prior to the ban, these substances have frequently been referred to as 'legal highs'. They often contain ingredients that have not been tested on humans and so their effects are hard to predict. As such substances are not generally intended for human consumption, they have frequently been marketed as bath salts, incense or plant food. The drugs have three main effects – as stimulants, sedatives or hallucinogens.
Possession of a psychoactive substance is not in itself an offence, except where it occurs within a 'custodial institution' – i.e. a prison, young offender institution, remand or removal centre etc.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) advises employers who do not already do so to include the use of psychoactive substances in workplace drug and alcohol policies. As screening for their use can be difficult, Acas suggests focusing on the effects of such mind-altering substances on employees' behaviour and ability to work, rather than on the drugs themselves.
Policies should encourage users to seek help for their problems and staff should be trained to recognise potential signs of illegal drug use.