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Published: 15 November 2011

Main groups of new psychoactive substances monitored by the early-warning system

New psychoactive substances appearing on the drugs market in Europe have historically belonged to a small number of chemical families, with the phenethylamines and tryptamines accounting for the majority of reports to the early-warning system. In the past five years, however, increasing numbers of new substances from an expanding range of chemical families have been reported (see Figure).

Phenethylamines encompass a wide range of substances that may exhibit stimulant, entactogenic or hallucinogenic effects. Examples include the synthetic substances amphetamine, methamphetamine and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy- methamphetamine) and mescaline, which occurs naturally.

Tryptamines include a number of substances that have predominantly hallucinogenic effects. The main representatives are the naturally occurring compounds dimethyltryptamine (DMT), psilocin and psilocybin (found in hallucinogenic mushrooms) as well as the semi-synthetic lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).

Piperazines are represented by mCPP (1-(3-chlorophenyl) piperazine) and BZP (1-benzylpiperazine), both of which are central nervous system stimulants.

Cathinones have stimulant effects. The main cathinone derivatives are the semi-synthetic methcathinone and the synthetic compounds mephedrone, methylone and MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone).

Synthetic cannabinoids are functionally similar to delta- 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active principle of cannabis. Like THC, they can have hallucinogenic, sedative and depressant effects. They have been detected in herbal smoking mixtures such as ‘Spice’ (see EMCDDA, 2009).

Other substances reported to the early-warning system include various plant-derived and synthetic psychoactive substances (e.g. indanes, benzodifuranyls, narcotic analgesics, synthetic cocaine derivatives, ketamine and phencyclidine derivatives), which do not strictly belong to any of the previous families. Also included here are a small number of medicinal products and derivatives.

For more information on selected new psychoactive substances, see the EMCDDA Drug profiles.

EMCDDA (2009), Understanding the 'Spice' phenomenon, Thematic paper, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

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The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU's decentralised agencies. Read more >>

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Page last updated: Friday, 28 October 2011