New Psychoactive Substances (UNODC World Drug Report 2013)

New Psychoactive Substances (UNODC World Drug Report 2013)

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) (aka Designer Drugs) reported to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have increased from 166 at the end of 2009 to 251 by mid-2012 (> 50% increase). “For the first time, the number of NPS actually exceeded the total number of substances under international control (234).”1 NPS directly refers to unregulated (new) psychoactive substances or products intended to mimic the effects of controlled drugs. As the World Drug Report states, these compounds may not be new at all, but repurposed or “substances that have newly become available in specific markets”.1 The time lag between the identification of these NPS and the evaluation of their risk to public health, results in delays in legislation being put into effect to control these compounds. Historically, a decline in usage may occur once a compound is placed into a “controlled” status.

Long-term effects of compounds are difficult to determine due to the fact that once a compound is controlled often another NPS replaces it. “These substances include synthetic and plant-based psychoactive substances, and have rapidly spread in widely dispersed markets. Until mid-2012, the majority of the identified NPS were synthetic cannabinoids 
(23%), phenethylamines (23%) and synthetic cathinones (18%), followed by tryptamines (10%), plant-based substances (8%) and piperazines (5%).”1 They are often labeled as “legal highs” or “herbal highs” giving the impression these compounds are safe to use and free of harmful effects.

 Synthetic cannabinoids JWH-018 and JWH-073; synthetic cathinones mephedrone, methylone and MDPV; and m-chlorophenylpiperazine (mCPP), N-benzylpiperazine (BZP) and 1-(3-trifluoromethylphenyl)piperazine (TFMPP) among the piperazines are some of the most widely abused. Plant-based substances including mitragyna speciosa (kratom), catha edulis (khat) and salvia divinorum (salvia) are also popular NPS’s. Up next we may see some of the derivatives of the phenethylamine derived hallucinogen 2C-I’s (251-NBOH, 2CBCB-NBOMe, etc.) and many more.


1. World Drug Report 2013. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed 15 October 2013 <>

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