New Psychoactive Substances: Evolution in the Exchange of Information and Innovative Legal Responses in the European Union

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov 23;17(22):8704. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17228704.


At the end of 2019, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction was monitoring around 790 new psychoactive substances, more than twice the total number of controlled substances under the United Nations Conventions. These substances, which are not subject to international drug controls, include a wide range of molecules, including the assortment of drugs such as synthetic cannabinoids, stimulants, opiates, and benzodiazepines. Most of them are sold as "legal" substitutes for illicit drugs, while others are intended for small groups willing to experiment with them in order to know their possible new effects. At the national level, various measures have been taken to control new substances and many European countries have responded with specific legislation in favor of consumer safety and by extending or adapting existing drug laws to incorporate the new psychoactive substances. Moreover, since 1997, an early warning system has been created in Europe for identifying and responding quickly to the risks of new psychoactive substances. In order to establish a quicker and more effective system to address the criminal activities associated with new dangerous psychoactive substances, the European legal framework has considerably changed over the years.

Keywords: European drug legislation; early warning system; new psychoactive substances.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Europe
  • European Union
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs*
  • Information Dissemination*
  • Psychotropic Drugs*
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Psychotropic Drugs