Identifying emerging trends in recreational drug use: outcomes from the Psychonaut Web Mapping Project

Paolo Deluca, Zoe Davey, Ornella Corazza, Manuela Pasinetti, C. Pezzolesi, Fabrizio Schifano, Lucia Di Furia, Magi Farre, Marta Torrens, Liv Flesland, Arvid Skutle, E. Iversen, Miia Mannonen, A. Majava, Teuvo Peltoniemi, Norbert Scherbaum, Holger Siemann, Peer van der Kreeft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Citations (Scopus)


Background: This paper presents the outcomes of the 2-year European Union funded Psychonaut Web Mapping Project which aimed at developing and implementing an integrated web mapping system to promptly identify and learn about novel psychoactive substances (NPS; "legal highs") through the regular monitoring of the Internet. Methods: More than 200 discussion forums, social media, online shops, websites and other Internet resources (e.g. YouTube, eBay, Google, Google Insight) have been extensively and regularly monitored in 7 European countries (UK, Finland, Norway, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain) for emerging trends of NPS throughout the period of the study. Results: Key online resources have been identified as "leading edge" which have provided accurate and timely information on novel emerging compounds. In total more than 400 substances/products have been recorded. NPS have been noted online before reaching wider audiences. Discussion: Although a high number of novel psychoactive substances have been identified in the 2-year duration of the project, not all have become trends that needed public health response. Conversely, new recreational drug phenomena such as "spice drugs," mephedrone and naphyrone were all identified as emerging trends in forums and websites. In addition, it has been possible for the first time to collate detailed information on these and several more compounds even though no or limited scientific publications were available. It is therefore recommended that these monitoring activities are to be continued, that more countries, researchers and health professionals are involved, and that the findings are widely shared with all the relevant agencies, health professionals and future research projects. Implications, advantages and limitations of using the Internet as primary source for identifying emerging trends are also discussed
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-226
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
Issue number2
Early online date27 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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