By the end of 2019, the EMCDDA monitored around 790 NPS and every year more than 50 NPS are being detected for the first time by the EU-EWS (European Drug Report 2020). They emerged due to their availability, price and psychoactive potency. Many of them are designed to mimic existing scheduled drugs and used as an alternative to MDMA, amphetamines, cocaine and LSD. However, the knowledge about their pharmacology and toxicology is still incomplete. Among the NPS, it is worth mentioning synthetic cathinones, hallucinogens and phenethylamines (“PHEN”).

In Europe, synthetic cathinones have been sold online and in smart/grow-shops until they were scheduled and banned. Then, the drug market responded by producing different alternatives with minor chemical modifications.

Also, hallucinogens had a strong impact in 2019. This class of NPS mimics the effects of LSD or tryptamines. They can be purchased as synthetic substances with unknown purity or in the form of preparations based on fungi or plants. Tryptamine’s users are not always aware of what they have bought, so there are many risks associated with possible overdoses, repeated administration (due to their extremely quick tolerance) and/or dangerous side effects, which are still unknown. In addition, the bizarre behaviors shown by users under the influence of these drugs can be life threatening.

In May 2014 the risk assessment of an NPS, the phenethylamine 25I-NBOMe, with a high psychoactive potency was published. Phenethylamines, another class of NPS, are sold as a replacement for LSD and MDMA, and consumed in similar events (house parties, music festivals, raves).

The legal framework to assure public health and prevent social threats caused by NPS has been revised and national authorities will have 6 months to place a substance under control in their territory once the EU decision is enacted. Furthermore, the European Drug Report 2020 makes special emphasis in that for forensic and toxicological investigation, the availability of reference standards is essential; for NPS, however, these are often not available in many laboratories. Moreover, the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the EWS (Early Warning System) and risk assessment procedure of NPS establishes the need to have scientific-based information on the pharmacological/toxicological properties of the NPS. This would include both in vitro and in vivo data, with special emphasis on the need for in vivo models that may further demonstrate their dangerous effects. Consequently, it is critical to identify emerging health problems associated with NPS. The rapid emergence and the diversity of available products, as well as the addictive, lethal and social consequences of NPS abuse have proved challenging for the Conventions and for European policymakers and lawmakers.