New psychoactive substances or NPS are a wide variety of drugs that are produced and marketed as alternatives to more established illegal drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine, and LSD. As these drugs are usually made of ingredients that are not necessarily illegal, they are often mistaken as safer in spite of growing evidence of short and long-term detrimental effects on public health.
NPS manufacturers are developing these drugs at an alarming rate. As of December 2015, there were 643 new specimens of these substances registered in the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime or UNODC.
Are new psychoactive substances legal?
At present, the legal status of New Psychoactive Substances varies from country to country, with governments working on drafting new laws or updating existing ones to strongly counter their rapidly growing use. As of mid-2015, more than 50 countries have already implemented their respective legal responses to combat NPS abuse. At the international level, 10 new psychoactive substances were placed under international control by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on March 2015.
In countries that are experiencing high growth of various NPS, a generic legal approach is being adopted to cover as many substances that can be classified as NPS. Laws have been updated in order to invoke the chemical similarity of an NPS to a substance that is already controlled under legislation.
In Australia, states such as New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland have imposed a blanket ban on the possession and sale of substances that produce a psychoactive effect aside from tobacco, food and alcohol. Other states and territories have banned specific NPS substances, with new ones being added regularly to this list of banned substances.
In the UK, the Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 or the “legal highs ban” was enforced on May 26, 2016.
Under the act, it is now an offence to produce and supply, import or export, and possess on ones premises any substance intended for human consumption that can produce a psychoactive effect. Violators can face up to seven years in prison.
The act also enables police and local authorities to impose civil sanctions such as premises’ notices, prohibition notices, and premises and prohibition orders. Authorities are empowered as well to stop and search persons and vehicles, and enter and search premises under a warrant in order to seize and dispose of psychoactive substances.
Substances such as food, tobacco, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are excluded from the scope of the Psychoactive Substances Act. Controlled drugs that have a history of misuse and abuse are out of this act’s scope as well, since these are already under the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971. Individuals who have a legitimate reason for using psychoactive substances in their line of work such as those engaged in scientific research and similar activities are exempted as well.
Updated drug test kits for NPS detection
As a response to these legal developments pertaining to psychoactive substances, drug test manufacturers have also updated their drug testing kits in order to detect these substances. The Cathionine urine drug test kit is an example, as well as drug tests for synthetic cannabis, MDMA, Ketamine, MDPV Bath Salts, and MEP Mephedrone.