The diverse reasons for using Novel Psychoactive Substances - A qualitative study of the users' own perspectives

Int J Drug Policy. 2018 Feb;52:71-78. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2017.11.003. Epub 2017 Dec 11.


Background: The increasing number of legally ambiguous and precarious Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) constitutes a challenge for policy makers and public health. Scientific and more in-depth knowledge about the motivations for using NPS is scarce and often consist of predetermined, non-systematic, or poorly described reasons deduced from top-down approaches. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to explore and characterize the users' self-reported reasons for NPS use inductively and more comprehensively.

Methods: The self-reported reasons of a self-selected sample of 613 international NPS users were collected via an online survey promoted at the international drug discussion forum and later analyzed qualitatively using inductive thematic analysis.

Results: The analysis showed that the participants used NPS because these compounds reportedly: 1) enabled safer and more convenient drug use, 2) satisfied a curiosity and interest about the effects, 3) facilitated a novel and exciting adventure, 4) promoted self-exploration and personal growth, 5) functioned as coping agents, 6) enhanced abilities and performance, 7) fostered social bonding and belonging, and 8) acted as a means for recreation and pleasure. The consumption of NPS was also driven by 9) problematic and unintentional use.

Conclusion: The present study contributed to a more comprehensive understanding of the users' own and self-reported reasons for using NPS, which needs to be acknowledged not only in order to minimize drug related harm and drug user alienation but also to improve prevention efforts and reduce the potentially counter-intuitive effects of strictly prohibitive policies.

Keywords: drugs; internet; legal highs; motivation; novel psychoactive substances.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Drug Users / psychology*
  • Female
  • Harm Reduction
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs*
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Psychotropic Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Psychotropic Drugs