Authored by Irina Antonova via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
A new study has identified over a dozen new psychoactive drugs in the wastewater of various sites worldwide.
The trend of increasing new psychoactive substances (NPS) and the difficulty for law enforcement to control their circulation prompted a study by the University of Queensland, Australia, which was part of an international wastewater surveillance program.
The study covered a three-year period—from 2019 to 2022—and 47 cities in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, China and Brazil.
The lead scientist Dr Richard Bade told UQ News that they detected 18 NPS in the wastewater samples from around the world.
“In Australia, we found seven new psychoactive substances, including mephedrone, ethylone and eutylone, which all have a similar effect to MDMA or cocaine,” Bade said.
“We also found an increase in similar drugs in Europe, where there were high levels of 3-methylmethcathinone, particularly in Spain and Slovenia.
What Are NPS Drugs
New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are synthetic or semi-synthetic substances that are designed to mimic the effects of traditional illicit drugs such as cocaine, cannabis, or amphetamines.
They are sometimes called “designer drugs” or “legal highs” because they are often created to circumvent existing drug laws and regulations.
NPS can be chemically similar to illegal drugs, or they may have entirely new chemical structures that have not been previously identified.
Some examples of NPS include synthetic cannabinoids, cathinones, and phenethylamines.
These substances are often marketed as legal alternatives to traditional drugs, and are sold online, in head shops, or on the street.
One of the main concerns with NPS is that their effects are often not well understood, and they can be much more potent than traditional drugs, which can lead to a range of health risks, including overdose, addiction, and long-term health consequences.
As NPS are often marketed as “legal highs”, many people assume that they are safe to use, but this is not the case.
It’s important to remember that just because a substance is legal or unregulated it does not mean that it is safe or without risk.
Why Do People Use Illicit Drugs?
People reach for the new psychoactive substances because they are able to mimic the effect of already known illicit drugs but lack any legal restrictions.
“These substances are synthesised to replace banned substances, which means they have a slightly different molecular structure to stay ahead of the law,” explains Bade.
“They are generally manufactured in smaller quantities than traditional illicit drugs, making it difficult for law enforcement to control the circulation.”
The authors state in their paper that they attribute the use of illicit drugs to the societal burden.
Their study showed that the highest consumption of NPS was recorded around the New Year period, indicating that the consumption goes up during parties and festivals.
In addition, the lockdowns around the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the use of those drugs, according to the researchers.
“Harsh lockdowns and restrictions across the world meant people weren’t participating in traditional new year festivities, which was reflected in our results,” said Bade.
Types of NPS Specific to Global Location
The researchers also pointed out that the NPS they identified seemed to have geographic ties.
For example, mitragynine was primarily found in sites throughout the United States; eutylone and 3-methylmethcathinone were at high amounts in the wastewaters of New Zealand and several countries in Europe; 2F-deschloroketamine was found in Italy, Iceland and mainly in South-East Asia, especially in China; methoxetamine and methiopropamine predominantly in Australia.
Another conclusive finding was that the most commonly found class of NPS were the synthetic cathinones, which is a type of amphetamine known to induce the production of the ‘feel-good” or “happy” hormone dopamine.
Overall, the authors think that they have achieved the goal of their study which showed the importance of tackling this issue via regular annual and systematic wastewater analyses on a global scale.
“It is imperative to monitor the use of these drugs given our limited knowledge of their specific effects, how they interact with other drugs, and the harm they cause when consumed,” said Bade.
“International wastewater surveillance can allow us to identify what new psychoactive substances are being used globally and how these trends spread across continents.
“Adopting an annual wastewater analysis approach for the surveillance of these compounds is a cost-effective and ethical way for organisations to see what is trending and where educational messaging would make an impact.”
What Are Psychoactive Drugs?
Psychoactive drugs affect the central nervous system and alter brain function, causing changes in perception, mood, consciousness, and behaviour.
These drugs can be legal, such as prescription medications used to treat various mental and physical health conditions, or illegal, such as recreational drugs that are abused for their mind-altering effects.
Psychoactive drugs can be categorized into different classes based on their chemical structure, mechanism of action, and the effects they produce. Some of the most commonly used classes of psychoactive drugs include:
- Stimulants: These drugs increase activity in the brain and body, leading to increased alertness, energy, and euphoria. Examples include caffeine, cocaine, and amphetamines.
- Depressants: These drugs slow down activity in the brain and body, leading to feelings of relaxation, drowsiness, and reduced anxiety. Examples include alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids.
- Hallucinogens: These drugs alter perception and mood, causing visual and auditory hallucinations and profound changes in consciousness. Examples include LSD, psilocybin, and DMT.
- Cannabinoids: These drugs are derived from the cannabis plant and produce a range of effects, including relaxation, euphoria, altered perception, and pain relief. Examples include THC and CBD.
It’s important to note that while some psychoactive drugs may have beneficial effects when used appropriately under medical supervision, many of them can be highly addictive, lead to physical and psychological dependence, and have a range of adverse health consequences.