No prescription? No problem: A qualitative study investigating self-medication with novel psychoactive substances (NPS)

Tayler Holborn, Fabrizio Schifano, Paolo Deluca

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The proliferation of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) presents a challenge for global drug policy. The ease of online drug purchase and the emergence of the dark web have created new avenues for the growth of NPS. Despite the global nature of this issue, limited research has examined motivations of use. These include perceived safety or convenience, an interest in novel pharmacology and self-exploration. Recent evidence has suggested individuals may be self-medicating with NPS, however this phenomenon has yet to be thoroughly explored. This study aims to investigate the occurrence of NPS self-medication, identify the specific NPS involved, and understand the motivations behind their use.

Discussions surrounding self-medication using NPS were collected between October 2022 and February 2023 via a content analysis of a Reddit community. Ninety-three threads, comprising 182,490 words and 5023 comments, were collected and cleaned. A frequency analysis was conducted to identify the NPS discussed, and data was analysed systematically through the process of iterative categorization (IC).

Our study revealed frequent discussions about the self-medication with several NPS, notably etizolam, clonazolam, diclazepam, flualprazolam, 2-FMA, 4F-MPH, 3-FPM and 3-MeO-PCP. Individuals were mainly self-treating ADHD, anxiety and depression. Motivations for choosing NPS included access, cost, legality and a dissatisfaction with conventional healthcare. Substances were often chosen based on a profile of "Functionality" and outcomes varied. The use of clonazolam was highlighted as particularly problematic.

The current study provides insight into the phenomenon of self-medication with NPS within an internet demographic, exploring the motivations behind why individuals choose NPS for a variety of disorders. The easy access to NPS and lack of scientific data pose a significant challenge for drug policy. Future policies should focus on improving healthcare providers knowledge of NPS use, removing barriers to adult ADHD diagnosis and rebuilding trust between individuals and addiction services.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104109
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Early online date7 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2023


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Internet
  • Novel psychoactive substances
  • Self-medication
  • Motivation
  • Humans
  • Harm Reduction
  • Adult
  • Substance-Related Disorders/epidemiology
  • Psychotropic Drugs


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