New psychoactive substances: cheap intoxicants for marginalised and chronic drug users

Negative consumer attitudes may also have impacted on demand for new psychoactive substances. Prevention, harm reduction and the reporting of adverse consequences appear to have influenced the perception among young people that new substances are relatively safe legal alternatives to established illicit drugs. In spite of this, however, among more chronic and marginalised user populations, there is also evidence that the availability and use of these substances may be growing.

Problematic use of new psychoactive substances is becoming more apparent in certain settings and among some vulnerable populations. Injecting cathinone use, for example, among current and former opioid users, has been associated with increased levels of both physical and mental health problems.

Synthetic cannabinoids also are a growing concern. Despite some pharmacological similarities, these drugs should not be confused with cannabis products. Synthetic cannabinoids are often highly potent substances, which can have serious, potentially lethal, consequences. There is evidence to suggest that in parts of Europe, synthetic cannabinoids are now being consumed as cheap and powerful intoxicants by marginalised groups such as the homeless. Difficulties in detection mean that synthetic cannabinoids have become a particular problem in some European prisons, resulting in serious implications for prisoner health and security.