Abuse liability of novel ‘legal high’ designer stimulants: evidence from animal models

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In the last few years, the variety and recreational use of ‘legal high’ designer stimulants has increased to unprecedented levels. Since their rapid emergence in drug markets, numerous adverse physical and psychological effects have been extensively reported. However, less is understood about the potential for compulsive use of and addiction to these drugs. Recently, a small collection of scientific studies assessing the abuse liability of these drugs has emerged. This new knowledge has been derived primarily from animal studies using behaviorally based procedures which include intravenous self-administration, conditioned place preference, intracranial self-stimulation, and drug discrimination. In this review we present a brief history of the recent rise in designer stimulant use followed by a short methodological description of the aforementioned procedures. We then review neurochemical and abuse liability studies on designer stimulants that have been examined to date. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of these collective findings, our current understanding of the abuse liability of these drugs in relation to each other and the illicit drugs they are designed to mimic, and recommend future research directions.

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