University of Leicester researcher addresses blanket banning of ‘legal highs’

Posted by ap507 at May 18, 2016 02:37 PM |
Recent UK legislation to ban psychoactive substances was discussed by PhD researcher at cultural engagement event funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council on Tuesday 17 May

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 18 May 2016

A researcher from the University of Leicester alongside researchers from the University of Warwick addressed the recent UK legislation to ban ‘legal highs’ by instituting a blanket ban on psychoactive substances at an event on Tuesday 17 May.

Yewande Okuleye from the School of History at the University of Leicester discussed her PhD thesis entitled ‘The Scent of Terpene Molecules’, which re-conceptualises medical cannabis through the embodied experience of smell.

The cultural engagement event, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and organised by researchers from the University of Warwick, took place between 19:00-21:00, and took the form of a ‘Psychoactive Supper’ in which a selection of foodstuffs containing psychoactive ingredients were on show in a bid to stimulate a discussion about the concept of psychoactivity.

Guests were invited to smell a range of terpenes with the view to open up the discussion on the ubiquity of terpenes in plants. This public experiment explored how experiencing the olfactory portrait of terpenes might challenge guests to re-frame their thinking about cannabis.

In addition to the food experiences designed by scientists and culinary experts, short talks were delivered by leading experts in psychopharmacology, neuroscience of moral behaviour, activists, politicians and opinion-makers.

Yewande said: “Medicinal cannabis scientists are investigating mapping terpene profiles as a way to understand how they work in synergy with cannabinoids. This might facilitate cultivators to breed cannabis strains with different terpene combinations and target specific medical conditions.”

The event is central to ‘The Psychoactive Substances Act (2016)’, a new UK legislation scheduled to come into effect on 26 May that seeks to ban ‘legal highs’ by introducing a blanket ban on all psychoactive substances.

Dr Susannah Wilson project lead of ‘Banning Pleasure: Psychoactivity and the Law’ at the University of Warwick, said: “This symposium aims to stimulate reflection about the scope of the concept of psychoactivity deployed in The Psychoactive Substances Act and about the widely contested approach to drug policy it embodies.”  

Whilst the Act makes exceptions for psychoactive substances normally consumed as food, such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, many argue whether a line should be drawn between food and drugs as common foods often activate the same pathways in the brain as illegal drugs.

Yewande added: “As guests explore the associations, feelings and memories evoked by smell, they become part of the experiment as their feedback could potentially be insightful to the scientific enquiry.” 

The event took place on Tuesday 17 May and was attended by a number of influential thinkers.


Note to editors:

For more information about the event, contact Rebecca Powers on

Yewande Okuleye is available on


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