When good times go bad: Managing ‘legal high’ complications in the emergency department

Charles R. Caffrey*, Patrick M. Lank

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

Patients can use numerous drugs that exist outside of existing regulatory statutes in order to get “legal highs.” Legal psychoactive substances represent a challenge to the emergency medicine physician due to the sheer number of available agents, their multiple toxidromes and presentations, their escaping traditional methods of analysis, and the reluctance of patients to divulge their use of these agents. This paper endeavors to cover a wide variety of “legal highs,” or uncontrolled psychoactive substances that may have abuse potential and may result in serious toxicity. These agents include not only some novel psychoactive substances aka “designer drugs,” but also a wide variety of over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and even a household culinary spice. The care of patients in the emergency department who have used “legal high” substances is challenging. Patients may misunderstand the substance they have been exposed to, there are rarely any readily available laboratory confirmatory tests for these substances, and the exact substances being abused may change on a near-daily basis. This review will attempt to group legal agents into expected toxidromes and discuss associated common clinical manifestations and management. A focus on aggressive symptom-based supportive care as well as management of end-organ dysfunction is the mainstay of treatment for these patients in the emergency department.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-23
Number of pages15
JournalOpen Access Emergency Medicine
Volume10
DOIs
StatePublished - 2018

Keywords

  • Anticholinergic toxidrome
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants
  • Legal highs
  • Novel psychoactive substances
  • Opioid toxidrome
  • Sympathomimetic toxidrome
  • Toxicology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'When good times go bad: Managing ‘legal high’ complications in the emergency department'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this