What are NPS?


What are NPS


Novel psychoactive substances (NPS, “legal highs”) are compounds designed to mimic existing established recreational drugs. They can be grouped into four main categories: stimulants, cannabinoids, hallucinogens, and depressants.


  • NPS should not be regarded as safer than established recreational drugs
  • The most commonly clinically encountered NPS are stimulants (such as mephedrone) and cannabinoids (such as “spice”)

Over 560 substances are currently monitored by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, with 100 new agents identified in 2015 alone. Stimulants and synthetic cannabinoids account for the vast majority and are the types most commonly clinically encountered. Online purchases are increasing according to the 2016 Global Drug Survey, potentially in response to legislative changes, as is overall NPS use: lifetime consumption was reported by 8% of younger individuals in 2015, up from 5% in 2011, with figures relatively similar between sexes and different countries.


Novel psychoactive substances are increasingly being abused for recreational purposes because of their ability to go undetected in traditional workplace drug testing. This growing epidemic of newly labeled designer drugs generally stems from their design to mimic effects of classic illicit drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, and LSD.


The man-made substances have similar pharmacological effects on its users such as hallucinogenic, narcotic, sedative and stimulant. The man-made nature of these substances makes it such that the physical and psychological effects of these drugs are largely unknown and unpredictable. What experts do know is that these synthetic drugs impact the user’s mood, behavior, and cognitive processes. The chemical compounds or synthetic variables are not controlled and are not tested for safety, therefore the outcome is unknown and can be extremely dangerous and potentially lethal.


  • “NPS products are not quality controlled leading to inconsistencies and variabilities in the quantity, purity, and potency of the active ingredient within and between batches of drugs, and are not tested for safety, so outcome for the user is uncertain.” Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Vol 101, 2017.
  • “A DEA Forensic lab tested the contents of 28 identical packets of Synthetic Cannabinoids from one seizure in 2015. The packets contained a total of seven (7) different synthetic cannabinoids. Many packets contained more than one variety of synthetic cannabinoids. Therefore any two identically marked packets of synthetic cannabinoids may have two completely different drugs inside, even in the same store”


Today, companies face a new workplace safety challenge because traditional workplace drug tests do not detect these designer drugs. The growing number of analytes within the NPS drug class adds to the issue because their novelty affords the user anonymity.


Vanguard Lab Sciences’ research and development team leverages proprietary method development protocols to aid in the detection of even the newest NPS analyte allowing for a new analyte to be brought online rapidly.

These designer drugs include: