Chemical engineers in the United Kingdom are researching methods of testing substances at a faster rate than previously conducted to determine whether or not they are regarded psychoactive substances, otherwise known as 'legal highs'.

'Legal highs' (NPS - novel psychoactive substances) refer to substances that stimulate the consumer to the same extent illegal psychoactive drugs do but are easier to purchase due to them being accessible to most people. The substances are not being controlled by law in the UK and are leading to deaths in the country. According to BelfastTelegraph, 101 psychoactive substances were identified in the year 2014. However, with the speed of how many different substances are being produced, a faster screening process needs to be invented. 

The Queen's School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering in Belfast set up a project that is in the process of developing a technology that will screen the new substances and cross-reference them with the newly created substances. At the helm of the project is Professor Steven Bell. He says, "The production of these drugs is constantly evolving and, unfortunately, there have been many instances of highly dangerous variants appearing, causing multiple fatalities before the threat they posed was recognised." 

How the screening works

The detecting of legal high drug variants involves screening the "characteristic vibrations of the bonds within the samples by focusing a laser on the sample and measuring the energy of light scattering from it," according to Analyst, the Queen's School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering's journal. The journal further states that when the chemical signatures of the new compounds of legal highs are found, they then cross-reference them with the already known compounds. Out of 200 samples legal high compounds, 75 percent of them were seized by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. 

Bell is hoping that the research they present will be able to assist "the Community, Police and Public Health agencies, with the aim of saving lives and preventing serious injury." 

Along with Forensic Science Northern Ireland, the project was given £71,000 from local government to continue the speedy results of what drugs are circulating in the world of legal highs. 

According to MedicalXpress.com, the next stage of the project will involve working on "live casework examples."