NEW laws have been introduced today as part of a nationwide crackdown on the use of legal highs.

Called the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, members of the public will now not be able buy, sell or produce any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect.

The use of legal highs has been a problem in Somerset in recent years. As reported in the Gazette, five people were taken to hospital earlier in the year after taking legal highs.

Police and councils in the area have launched a number of initiatives in a bid to stop people taking legal highs, and it is now hoped that the new laws will help the authorities in their efforts.

Last year, Taunton Deane Borough Council issued a public protection order in the town centre in an attempt to make public areas free from legal highs, replacing the No Drinking order in the area.

Although the new laws have been introduced, it is not illegal to possess legal highs, as long as there is no intent to supply, or to consume them.

The new laws also exclude alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, medicine or food.

The new laws have been widely welcomed by campaigners, although there are still concerns about how the police will enforce it, and how people hooked on legal highs will come off the drugs.

Nick Smith, from South West Action Group, has campaigned against the use of Legal Highs after his child was pricked by a needle in a public toilet, and has welcomed the new laws.

He said: "This is definitely a good thing, but it has taken some time to get here.

"I hope police can now crack down on illegal use now that it is illegal to buy.

"The previous problem was in the ease of getting them.

"There is still going to be a drug problem, but now the police can do something about it. Before people could smoke and inject in public and there was nothing the police could do about it.

"But now they can crack down on it, it has got to be a good thing."

Somerset had several shops that sold legal highs before the new laws were introduced, with one shop based in Taunton, called Hush, closing in December 2014.

Mr Smith added: "Since Hush's closing there is nowhere near as much anti-social behaviour, and nowhere near as many needles.

"When you see previously known users around town, you can tell they look a lot better now."

Ambiguity over the definitions of a 'legal high' is a problem that has been identified within the new legislation.

The current Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) guidelines state that a legal high should be treated as a controlled drug until proven otherwise.

The legislation took around a year of deliberations and was postponed by a month before it was officially put into effect.

Debates such as whether or not Poppers (Alkyl Nitrite) counted as a psychoactive substance, but it was decided by the government’s advisory committee on the misuse of drugs that it did not have a direct effect on the brain.

Home Secretary Theresa May also visited Taunton just before last year's general election to see first hand the impact legal highs were having in the town.

Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow said: "The people of Taunton Deane played a part in inputting to the creation of this Act when I brought Home Secretary, Theresa May to the town to see the dire impacts of these drugs for herself.

"I understand there are concerns ‘legal highs' are driven underground and I accept that the proposed legislation will not make the problem disappear but I believe that it will protect the majority of people who may be affected and ultimately will make our streets safer.

"In addition it will be important to provide the correct support for those users who are unfortunately already addicted to both ‘legal highs’ and other substances that are illegal. This will involve joint working between a range of parties."

Martin Hodgson, chief executive of YMCA Somerset Coast, said more work needed to be done on addressing the impact of the legal highs to complement the new laws.

He said: "YMCA’s status as the largest youth charity in the world puts us in the unique position of being able to recognise the impact legal highs use has on young people across the country.

"Nationally, YMCA welcomes Government action on legal highs. However, research has uncovered strong evidence to suggest the new Psychoactive Substances Act will not achieve what is necessary to address the impact these substances are having on many young people’s lives.

“The ban is likely to have some success in reducing the numbers of young people taking these substances, however, we believe it will do little to address the hidden, darker side to legal highs.

“What YMCA has discovered is that many young people, including those who are highly entrenched in their addiction to substances, are likely to be unperturbed by this change in the law.

“Unless the act is backed up with changes to the education and support currently available, YMCA’s national evidence suggests that these young people and more will continue to experience harm at the hands of legal highs for years to come.”