Identifying emerging trends in recreational drug use; outcomes from the Psychonaut Web Mapping Project

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Abstract

Background

This paper presents the outcomes of the 2-year European Union funded Psychonaut Web Mapping Project which aimed at developing and implementing an integrated web mapping system to promptly identify and learn about novel psychoactive substances (NPS; “legal highs”) through the regular monitoring of the Internet.

Methods

More than 200 discussion forums, social media, online shops, websites and other Internet resources (e.g. YouTube, eBay, Google, Google Insight) have been extensively and regularly monitored in 7 European countries (UK, Finland, Norway, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain) for emerging trends of NPS throughout the period of the study.

Results

Key online resources have been identified as “leading edge” which have provided accurate and timely information on novel emerging compounds. In total more than 400 substances/products have been recorded. NPS have been noted online before reaching wider audiences.

Discussion

Although a high number of novel psychoactive substances have been identified in the 2-year duration of the project, not all have become trends that needed public health response. Conversely, new recreational drug phenomena such as “spice drugs,” mephedrone and naphyrone were all identified as emerging trends in forums and websites. In addition, it has been possible for the first time to collate detailed information on these and several more compounds even though no or limited scientific publications were available. It is therefore recommended that these monitoring activities are to be continued, that more countries, researchers and health professionals are involved, and that the findings are widely shared with all the relevant agencies, health professionals and future research projects.

Discussion

Implications, advantages and limitations of using the Internet as primary source for identifying emerging trends are also discussed.

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