To read this content please select one of the options below:

Novel psychoactive substances (NPS): clinical and pharmacological issues

Fabrizio Schifano (CRI Drug and Alcohol Recovery Services, Hatfield, UK AND School of Life and Medical Sciences, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 2 March 2015




The purpose of this paper is to provide health professionals with novel psychoactive substances (NPS) clients with up to date information relating to the background, clinical pharmacology and, when possible, clinical management for each of these categories.


The world of NPS is complex and diverse, including a range of different molecules such as: psychedelic phenethylamines; synthetic cannabinoids, cathinone derivatives; novel stimulants; synthetic opiates/opioids; tryptamine derivatives; phencyclidine-like dissociatives; piperazines; GABA-A/GABA-B receptor agonists; a range of prescribing medications; psychactive plants/herbs; and a large series of performance and image-enhancing drugs. These molecules are sought by users for their psychactive effects.


The NPS categorization and classification provided here is an attempt to identify and better understand some of these substances. Given the vast range of medical and psychopathological issues associated with the NPS described it is crucial for health professionals to be aware of the effects and toxicity of NPS. The EU-MADNESS project aims to both better understand the pharmacology of the available/forthcoming NPS and to disseminate the most current NPS-related information to practising and training health professionals.

Research limitations/implications

Further studies are required to identify a range of evidence-based, NPS-focused, clinical management and treatment strategies.

Social implications

The rapid pace of change in the NPS online market constitutes a major challenge to the provision of current and reliable scientific knowledge on these substances.


The present review will provide an overview of the clinical and pharmacological issues related to a few hundred NPS.



The author is both a Core Member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD, UK) and a member of the Specialist Advisory Group (Psychiatry) for the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

No conflicts of interest are declared here that may have influenced the interpretation of the present data. The European Commission-funded EU-MADNESS project (2014-2016; contract no.: JUST2013/DPIP/AG/4823) resources were used to assist with the preparation of this review.


Schifano, F. (2015), "Novel psychoactive substances (NPS): clinical and pharmacological issues", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 21-27.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles