Novel Psychoactive Substances

Did you know: There are different types of NPS and can be broadly categorised as stimulant, cannabinoid, hallucinogen, dissociative, opioid, and benzodiazepine-like drugs – although other types may also be available.

NPS are drugs developed to be similar to existing drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine. Initially these were developed to offer a legal version of illegal drugs and were commonly known as ‘legal highs’. However most, if not all, are now illegal themselves since the UK Government introduced the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Due to the short time NPS have been around, the large number of substances covered and the relatively small number of people who use them we do not have a lot of information to keep people safe. There is growing evidence that there are a number of short-term and longer-term harms associated with using NPS and caution should be taken in using them as NPS are often claim to give effects similar to more established drugs but often affect people in unexpected and unwanted ways.

NPS can be found in a wide variety of different forms such as powders, pills, capsules, liquids, tabs/soaked in paper, or sprayed on plant material for smoking.

Sometimes, NPS are packaged in bright, professional looking wrapping to give the appearance of professionally manufactured products.

We really don’t know enough about NPS to say for sure what taking one will do. As there are many different types of NPS each one will do something different. They’ve not been around long enough for there to be much understanding of how they affect people nor whether they have any specific side-effects.

The different NPS groups will have effects more similar to those in the equivalent established drug groups than other types of drugs. However similar does not mean the same– a stimulant-type NPS may give affects very different to stimulant drugs such as cocaine or amphetamine and smoking a cannabinoid-type NPS may feel very different to smoking cannabis.

Much as with how they look, NPS can be taken in a variety of different ways dependent on how it comes. Some can be smoked, snorted, swallowed in a wrap (bombed), drunk or rubbed into the gums (dabbed).

Very broadly speaking, the risks of using NPS are similar to those risks for the established drug categories. This is only intended as a general guide as each NPS may give very different effects to other similar NPS. There is a risk of dependency forming for drugs in all categories and some are very toxic, making overdose and other harms more likely.

• Cannabinoid-like – see Synthetic Cannabinoids

• Stimulant-like – paranoia, depression and anxiety are common and you may suffer from psychosis (seeing or hearing things that are not there) or believing things that are not true (delusions). People with underlying heart or blood pressure problems should avoid any sort of stimulant-type drug.

• Hallucinogenic-like – these may give strong and vivid hallucinations that may be unpleasant, uncomfortable or disturbing. You may be left vulnerable and at risk of having an accident.

• Dissociative-like – if using these types of NPS, you may suffer disorientation, confusion and loss of coordination and is some cases, be unable to move. You may have hallucinations that you find disturbing or unpleasant.

• Opioid-like – overdose is the main risk of using opioid-like drugs. This is especially true if mixing with alcohol or depressant drugs which can increase the risk of an OD being fatal. Opioid-like NPS may lead to dependency and you may suffer withdrawals if you stop using. If injecting, you may be at risk of blood borne viruses such as Hepatitis and HIV, if needles are shared.

• Benzodiazepine-like – these drugs may make you unconscious and there is a risk of death.

• If you choose to use a NPS then try to do so somewhere you know and feel safe and in the company of people you trust (ideally with at least one person who is not using anything).

• Research what you are taking. Do not assume because you have taken other drugs that an NPS will be similar.

• Don’t mix NPS with alcohol or other drugs as this will decrease the risk of overdose.

• Start low, go slow. If you are going to use an NPS start with a small amount and wait to feel the effects. Some drugs take time to take effect so do not take more if you don’t feel anything quickly.

• Leave a good amount of time in between sessions of use. You brain only has so much pleasure chemicals and trying to use too often may mean you don’t get the effects you’re looking for.