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About New Psychoactive Substances Category: New Psychoactive Substances

What are new psychoactive substances?

They may also be called ‘Research Chemicals’, ‘Legal Highs’, ‘New Drugs’, ‘Head Shop Drugs’

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) is an umbrella term to describe a range of drugs that were originally developed to mimic or replace traditional drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis etc. By slightly altering  chemical structures of established drugs, it meant that NPS could be developed to avoid law enforcement policies internationally.

Manufactures can produce substances by slightly altering the chemical structures of already established drugs.  In some cases, NPS have increased potency compared to the drugs they were designed to mimic.

The term ‘new’ does not necessarily mean that the substances are new, some could have been developed some time ago, but are new to the market.
There can be a misconception that NPS or legal highs are safer than traditional drugs. Just because they are advertised as new or legal it does not mean they are safe.

Head shops in Ireland

People may be familiar with NPS (powders, pills and smoking mixtures) which were available in Head Shops in Ireland in the later 2000’s. Some well-known products included synthetic cathinones which were powders such as Mephedrone ‘Drone’, Meph’, ‘Snow Blow’, 'Wild Cat' and synthetic cannabinoids which were smoking mixture such as ‘Spice’.

See our feature on Head Shops and their products here.  

In 2010 The Criminal Justice Psychoactive Substance Act 2010 was inacted which essentially resulted in the closure of Head Shops. The Act now means that the supply of NPS substances is controlled by Irish law. NPS and other drugs are controlled in Ireland by a number legislative Acts. 

Types of NPS

NPS can come as pills, powders, smoking mixtures, liquids or capsules and be divided into different categories such as;

Although demand appears low among the general public in Ireland, NPS continue to be a persistent concern on the European drug market. Although the emergence of NPS is stabilising, around 50 new substances are identified to the EU Early Warning System each year. As well as this, about 400 previously reported NPS continue to be detected on the EU drug market in 2020.

Examples of NPS appearing

NPS could appear in substances without a person knowing. Below highlights a small number of examples from drug checking services where NPS were identified in recent times. This does not document every situation or show current risks for people using these or other substances in Ireland.


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