In the past few years the world has experienced a large increase in the number of compounds appearing on the illicit drug market. Many of them have been termed “Legal Highs”, “Legal Designer Drugs”, or more recently, “Novel Psychoactive Substances” (NPS). The objective of this project is to critically review the present status of NPS and how they are evaluated, with special regards to structure-activity relationships, synthetic and analytical aspects, and their potential biological effects. This will aid in increasing the awareness of NPS across the wider scientific community.
In the past few years, the world has experienced a large increase in the number of compounds appearing on the illicit drug market. Such substances are designed to circumvent governmental regulations as the manufacturers routinely take a known psychoactive compound reported in the scientific literature and alter it chemically in order to produce compounds that will mimic its pharmacological activity but not have an identical structure to the parent molecule. Many of these substances are commonly sold via the internet or in “head shops” as products “not to be used for human consumption” to avoid legal regulation and prosecution. In particular, products known as “bath salts” usually contain mixtures of cathinone-derived compounds with effects such as increase of the synaptic concentrations of biogenic amines (norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin). Another class of potentially dangerous products are sold as “Spice” or “herbal incense” and usually contain mixtures of compounds termed “synthetic cannabinoids” (CB receptor ligands) sprayed onto botanical material. The number of new drugs of abuse appearing on the market is rapidly increasing, making it very difficult for government agencies to control them. Users are attracted by the low cost of these substances as opposed to conventional recreational drugs (i.e. MDMA, cocaine), which poses additional risk with respect to the potential ease of overdosing. Use and abuse of these products has often been linked to a series of side effects including psychosis, seizures and other psychotropic effects, and in certain cases suicide or death.
The objective of this project is to critically review the present status of NPS, with special regards to structure-activity relationships, synthetic and analytical aspects, and their potential biological effects. The results of this project will aid in educating scientific, social and governmental bodies with respect to this ever-growing phenomenon and the challenges it poses.
Jan 2015 – Project announcement published in Chem. Int. Jan-Feb 2015, p. 24; DOI: 10.1515/ci-2015-0116
October 2016 update – The task group including members from North America, Japan and Europe, met twice in Europe (2015 and 2016) and once Asia (2015). It was decided to slightly adapt the title of the project to the current developments: “The Ongoing Problem of Novel Psychoactive Substances” and principally focus on the two substance classes: “synthetic cannabinoids” and “synthetic cathinones”. Two manuscripts are in preparation.
July 2017 update – The first report entitled “Ongoing Challenge of Novel Psychoactive Drugs of Abuse. Part 1. Synthetic Cannabinoids” has been submitted to PAC and is under review. This report is intended to provide pertinent information for the purposes of informing scientific, medical, social and governmental bodies with respect to this ever-evolving recreational drug class and the challenges it poses worldwide.
A poster was presented during the IYCN reception at the GA in Sao Paulo, 10 July 2017.
Aug 2018 update – A first technical report has been published: The ongoing challenge of novel psychoactive drugs of abuse. Part I. Synthetic cannabinoids (IUPAC Technical Report), Pure and Applied Chemistry, 90(8), pp. 1255-1282, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1515/pac-2017-0605
Page last updated 10 Aug 2018