NPS -New Psychoactive Substances


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    New psychoactive substances (NPS) are a range of drugs that have been designed to mimic established illicit drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD. Manufacturers of these drugs develop new chemicals to replace those that are banned, which means that the chemical structures of the drugs are constantly changing to try to stay ahead of the law. New psychoactive substances (NPS) are being developed at an unprecedented rate.

    As of December 2015, 643 new psychoactive substances were registered in the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Early Warning Advisory on NPS. In 2015, the emergence of 75 substances was reported for the first time. Out of these, the majority of the substances belong to synthetic cannabinoids (21), synthetic cathinones (20) and phenethylamines (9). In addition, another 21 substances were reported for the first time in 2015, that are structurally diverse and do not fit to any of the above-mentioned groups.

  • Common Names

    Synthetic drugs, legal highs, herbal highs, party pills, synthetic cocaine, synthetic cannabis, herbal ecstasy, NBOMes, bath salts, plant fertiliser, herbal incense, room deodorisers, aphrodisiac tea, social tonics, new and emerging drugs (NEDs), drug analogues and research chemicals.

    These products can sometimes be marked ‘not for human consumption’.

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    Are they safer than established illicit drugs?

    This is one of the biggest misconceptions about NPS. Even though they are sometimes advertised as legal, this doesn’t mean they are safe. Given how rapidly new drugs are emerging, it is difficult to know the common effects of these drugs and what dose causes what effects.

    NPS do not typically come with a recommended dosage printed on the label. They are unregulated and untested. Given the chemicals in these drugs are constantly changing to try to stay ahead of the law, it’s possible to receive a very different product from batch to batch, even if the packaging and name are the same. NPS are relatively new, so there is limited information available about their short and long-term effects. However, synthetic cannabis has been reported to have more serious side-effects than cannabis.

  • Are they legal?

    The laws surrounding NPS are complex, constantly changing, and differ between countries, but in general they are increasingly becoming stronger. In Ireland there is now a ban on possessing or selling any substance that has a psychoactive effect other than alcohol, tobacco and food.

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    Types of NPS

    The 3 most common types of NPS are known as:

    • Party pills and pellets
    • Synthetic cannabis
    • Research chemicals and drug analogues

Party Pills

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    Party pills and pellets are sometimes marketed as natural supplements that increase energy or mood, with effects similar to ecstasy or amphetamines. However, these products can contain man-made chemicals and the label often doesn’t list the ingredients correctly.

    Research on them has demonstrated they are usually made with synthetic chemicals, which are cheaper. These products are marketed under names such as Loaded, HyperDrive and NeuroBlaster.

  • What do Party Pills look like?

    Party pills are available as pills or small pellet-like tablets or in small bottles of liquid.

    They are usually swallowed.


Synthetic Cannabis

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    Synthetic cannabis Synthetic cannabis is produced with man-made chemicals that create similar effects to delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in cannabis. However it also produces additional negative effects.

    These powdered chemicals are mixed with solvents and added to dried herbs. Synthetic cannabis is marketed under different brand names including Spice, Kronic, Northern Lights, Mojo, Lightning Gold, Lightning Red and Godfather. It is also marketed under other general terms including aphrodisiac tea, herbal incense and potpourri.

  • What does Synthetic Cannabis look like?

    Synthetic cannabis looks like dried herbs and is sold in colorful, branded packets.

    It’s usually smoked and is sometimes drunk as a tea.


Research Chemicals

Research Chemicals

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    Research chemicals are marketed as pure psychoactive drugs. Similar to other NPS, research has not been conducted on how they affect humans.

    Many of the active ingredients in herbal highs/party pills and synthetic cannabis can be considered research chemicals.

    These substances often belong to groups such as cathinones, phenethylamines and tryptamines.

    Other names include Mephedrone, Flakka / Gravel, Dr Death, Synthacaine, methoxetamine (MXE), Benzo Furry and Ivory Wave.

  • What do Research Chemicals look like?

    Research chemicals usually come as a white powder, crystals, capsules or on blotter tab. These products are marketed under a range of names including research chemicals, plant food or bath salts. They may include warnings such as ‘not for human consumption’ or ‘only for research purposes’.

    They are swallowed, smoked, injected, snorted or taken anally (shelved).


Health & Safety

Treatment could be quicker and more effective if the person has used the drug with somebody who can advise exactly what has been taken and the dosage, or it has been written down – supplying the packet might be helpful.