An introduction to novel psychoactives

Novel psychoactive (NPA) substances formed a large part of my drug use, and yet many people have not heard of them. NPAs exist in a legal grey area in most countries and represent a significant risk of harm.

What are NPAs?

A simple explanation is that an NPA is chemically similar to an illicit substance, but differs just enough so as to avoid being prohibited under drug laws in most countries.

Two famous NPAs are spice and mephedrone (MCAT). Spice in particular represents a very dangerous group of cannabinoids that have caused a great deal of harm here in the UK.

These drugs can be bought online without having to access the dark web. Vendors sell them as “research chemicals” and avoid scrutiny by stating that they are not intended for human consumption.

Why are NPAs so dangerous?

Unlike their illegal counterparts, very little research has been done into the long and short-term effects of using these substances. We do not know how they interact with the body.

They are also dangerous because in the case of an overdose, we do not know if they will respond to typical medical interventions due to their chemical differences.

Due to their purity, NPAs tend to be a lot stronger than their illegal counterparts, making the risk of overdose much more pronounced.

What is the Novel Psychoactives Act (UK)?

This was a piece of legislation that effectively made the supply and possessions of NPAs illegal in the UK. It was heralded as a landmark piece of legislation, but was fundamentally flawed.

Prohibition does not stop people from using substances. Using spice as an example; when this act came to pass, spice production entered the black market. When a drug enters the black market it’s impossible to guarantee strength and purity.

The number of people using spice actually appeared to rise, and the number of people presenting at drug and alcohol services for treatment as a result of this increased. We also rapidly discovered that spice causes significant mental health problems.

Spice also made its way into the prison system in various forms, thereby causing harm to an already vulnerable population. Spice began to turn up in things such as the liquid for e-cigarettes, and its use amongst drug using populations boomed.

The psychonaut community

When I was using NPAs, I came across the psychonaut community. As an autistic person, I felt very at home. This was a group of people who experimented with NPAs so as to keep meticulous journals of how much they took, how long they lasted, and how they effected them.

Sadly these days I see an awful lot of people in the psychonaut community talk about administering these drugs to themselves or autistic loved ones as a sort of “cure”. This was not the case when I was active in the community.

NPAs present a significant risk to society, but very little education about them is provided. The online market for them is still very much alive, as well as the growing black market for such substances thanks to the Novel Psychoactive Act.

My advice to anyone interested in NPAs is to avoid using them. The risks are too significant. By all means study them from an academic point of view, but please, do not use these substances. The risks far outweigh the benefits.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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