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Psychoactive Substances Act 2016: A Guide

The Act came into force in May 2016 and fairly dramatically extends the criminalisation of the possession and supply of substances which can generically be referred to as ‘drugs’. It does not affect the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 which remains in force in connection with the possession, supply and trafficking of cannabis, amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin as well as other less known narcotic substances which feature in its schedules. Thus, it is a departure from existing legislation because it is not substance focused.

What is a Psychoactive Substance?

It is defined as any substance “capable of producing a psychoactive effect” which is not an exempted substance

What is an exempted substance?

Basically, anything that is already illegal plus medicines, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine or food.

What are the offences created by the Act?

Producing a psychoactive substance, supplying or offering to supply it, a new offence of aggravated supply which occurs when supply takes place within the vicinity of a school, using an underage courier or in a custodial institution and importing or exporting it. Finally, there is an additional offence of possession only but in a custodial institution.

It is not a crime to possess a psychoactive substance outside of a custodial institution.


The maximum sentence for most offences is 12 months imprisonment on summary conviction and 7 years imprisonment on indictment.

Other provisions

There are various additional provisions which give the police powers to enforce the legislation, provide for corporate liability and the making of prohibition orders on conviction.

Click here if you would like more information about how our solicitors specialising in drug offences could help you if you are being investigated or prosecuted for an offence under the Act.


Legal Disclaimer

Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.