Identifying new/emerging psychoactive substances at the time of COVID-19; a web-based approach
Corkery, John Martin
COVID-19-related disruptions of people and goods' circulation can affect drug markets, especially for new psychoactive substances (NPSs). Drug shortages could cause a change in available NPS, with the introduction of new, unknown, substances. The aims of the current research were to use a web crawler, NPSfinder®, to identify and categorize emerging NPS discussed on a range of drug enthusiasts/psychonauts' websites/fora at the time of the pandemic; social media for these identified NPS were screened as well. The NPSfinder® was used here to automatically scan 24/7 a list of psychonaut websites and NPS online resources. The NPSs identified in the time frame between January and August 2020 were searched in both the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addictions (EMCDDA)/United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) databases and on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube) as well, with a content qualitative analysis having been carried out on reddit.com. Of a total of 229 NPSs being discussed at the time of the pandemic, some 18 NPSs were identified for the first time by the NPSfinder®. These included six cathinones, six opioids, two synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs), two phenylcyclohexylpiperidine (PCP)-like molecules, and two psychedelics. Of these NPSs, 10 were found to be previously unreported to either the UNODC or the EMCDDA. Of these 18 NPSs, opioids and cathinones were the most discussed on social media/reddit, with the highest number of threads associated. Current findings may support the use of both automated web crawlers and social listening approaches to identify emerging NPSs; the pandemic-related imposed restrictions may somehow influence the demand for specific NPS classes.