menu ☰
menu ˟

New psychoactive substances: legislative changes in the UK,Issue 59, Autumn 2016.


Lucy Dillon

Catalogue: Research and Evaluation
Type: Report
Region: Republic of Ireland
Northern Ireland

Psychoactive Substances Act 2016

The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 came into force in the UK on 26 May 26 2016. In the Act, a ‘psychoactive substance’ is defined as one that ‘produces a psychoactive effect in a person if, by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, it affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state; and references to a substance’s psychoactive effects are to be read accordingly’.1 The Act differs from the established approach to drug control under the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in that it covers substances by virtue of their psychoactive properties, rather than the identity of the drug or its chemical structure.2 

Critics of the Act argue that this focus on the psychoactive properties of the substance is too broad ‒ it means that technically the authorities could decide that any substance that changes a person’s mood could be included, irrespective of any evidence of the substance being harmful. In an effort to address this, the guidance accompanying the Act2 states that the effects of the substance are to be ‘as measured by the production of a pharmacological response on the central nervous system or which produces a response in in-vitro tests qualitatively identical3 to substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971’ (p. 3).2 However, the guidance also notes that the Act captures all psychoactive substances that are not controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act or are otherwise exempt. Exempted substances include controlled drugs (within the meaning of the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1971), medicinal products, alcohol, tobacco products, caffeine, and food.1 





Rights: Public
Suggested citation:

Lucy Dillon. (2016) New psychoactive substances: legislative changes in the UK,Issue 59, Autumn 2016. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 23rd September 2019].


View your saved citations and reading lists


National Drugs Library
Click here to view all the resources gathered from this organisation's website.