University of Hertfordshire

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Novel opioids: systematic web crawling within the e-psychonauts’ scenario

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Original languageEnglish
Article number149
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2020


Background: A wide range of novel psychoactive substances (NPSs) are regularly searched and discussed online by e-psychonauts. Among NPSs, the range of prescription/non-prescription opioids (fentanyl and non-fentanyl analogs) and herbal derivatives currently represents a challenge for governments and clinicians.

Methods: Using a web crawler (i.e., NPS.Finder ®), the present study aimed at assessing psychonaut fora/platforms to better understand the online situation regarding opioids.

Results: The open-web crawling/navigating software identified some 426 opioids, including 234 fentanyl analogs. Of these, 176 substances (162 were very potent fentanyls, including two ohmefentanyl and seven carfentanyl analogs) were not listed in either international or European NPS databases.

Conclusion: A web crawling approach helped in identifying a large number, indeed higher than that listed by European/international agencies, of unknown opioids likely to possess a significant misuse potential. Most of these novel/emerging substances are still relatively unknown. This is a reason of concern; each of these analogs potentially presents with different toxicodynamic profiles, and there is a lack of docking, preclinical, and clinical observations. Strengthening multidisciplinary collaboration between clinicians and bioinformatics may prove useful in better assessing public health risks associated with opioids.


© 2020 Arillotta, Schifano, Napoletano, Zangani, Gilgar, Guirguis, Corkery, Aguglia and Vento. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms. Submitted 13 October 2019 to Frontiers in Neuroscience. To reviewers 21 October 2019; interactive review started 1 January 2020. Revised 9 January 2020. Accepted 7 February 2020. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.00149. Abstract published 7 February 2020. Paper published online 18 March 2020.


ID: 19281896