Novel Psychoactive Substances

Novel psychoactive substances (NPS) are defined as new narcotic or psychotropic drugs, in pure form or in preparation, that are not controlled by the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, but which are liable to abuse and dependence and produce similar effects on the central nervous system compared to Schedule I and II drugs. Many NPS closely mimic effects of common illicit drugs. Over the past years, the availability of NPS has shown an exponential increase.

Case reports of NPS intoxications from emergency departments are also on the rise. NPS that are most commonly reported in acute NPS poisonings in Europe and the US are cathinones (e.g. mephedrone) and synthetic cannabinoids. The most common symptoms of NPS poisoning are agitation, coma and psychosis.

Current risk assessments of NPS are frequently based on individual case studies without any information on exposure or dose. Our group focuses on NPS that are currently on the market and for which very little or no scientific information is available about (harmful) effects on individual health. Our group aims to fill this information gap and founded the first European consortium (PREDICT) to assess and predict individual health risks from systematic, controlled NPS trials in humans and animals. For more information on PREDICT click here

NPS that have been assessed to determine safety, addiction liability, behavioral toxicity and pharmacokinetics in phase 1, placebo-controlled, cross-over studies included synthetic cannabinoids (JWH-018), phenethylamines (4-FA) and cathinones (mephedrone). Follow the links for examples of pharmacokinetic ( blood, oral fluid and urine) and pharmacodynamic profiling of JWH-018. We recently published papers on the safety pharmacology and addiction liability of 4-FA and the neurocognitive profile of mephedrone.

An example of pharmacokinetic /pharmacodynamic profiling of NPS is given below.

Mean (SE) serum concentrations of 4-FA after 100 and 150 mg 4-FA (upper panel left). Other panels show that blood pressure and subjective high after both doses of 4-FA follow a clockwise hysteresis when plotted against serum concentrations over time. Taken from de Sousa Fernandes Perna, 2018

  • Availability of novel psychoactive substances (NPS) exponentially increased over the last years. Risk evaluations of NPS are hampered by the lack of pharmacological studies in humans on health parameters.

  • New psychoactive substances (NPS) are chemical analogues designed to mimic the effects of various classic recreational drugs of abuse including MDMA, LSD, and cannabis. NPS use is associated with concern about the acute and longer-term effects particular substances might have, with abuse and addiction as potential consequences.

  • Recreational use of mephedrone, alone and in combination with alcohol, has increased over the past years. Pharmacological properties of mephedrone share similarities with methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), but its effect on neurocognitive function has not been well established in humans.

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