Identifying emerging trends in recreational drug use

outcomes from the Psychonaut Web Mapping Project

  1. Calliope
    Study Author(s):
    Paolo Deluca, Zoe Davey, Ornella Corazza, Lucia Di Furia, Magi Farre, Liv Holmefjord Flesland, Miia Mannonen, Aino Majava, Teuvo Peltoniemi, Manuela Pasinetti, Cinzia Pezzolesi, Norbert Scherbaum, Holger Siemann, Arvid Skutle, Marta Torrens, Peer van der Kreeft, Erik Iversen, Fabrizio Schifano
    Journal Name:
    Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry
    Publication Date:
    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 coun-tries (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.
    Implications, advantages and limitations of using the Internet as primary source for identifying emerging trends are also discussed.