Youth workers like to be up to date and informed about what young people may be using. Recent publicity about "synthetic" or "new and emerging drugs" has prompted a search for good information.


Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are not one type of drug but a general term for substances that are designed to mimic or produce similar effects to common illicit drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and LSD. Despite the fact that many are also called legal highs, many are illegal


NEDs (new and emerging drugs), Synthetics, research chemicals, plant food, bath salts, cathinones, phenethylamines, tryptamines, mephedrone (meow, miaow-miaow), synthetic cannabinoids (spice, kronic), X, tai high Hawaiian haze, Amsterdam gold, black mamba, NBOMe metherdrone.


It is hard to find verified data regarding local use. When new substances emerge on the market there is a lot of attention on drug user forums, health forums and even in the media. There is also often quite a sharp uptake in use. As a very general rule, spikes in use tend to subside as users return to using the drugs that synthetic or new drugs mimic or are similar to. This is because drugs such as cannabis, ice/amphetamines and LSD have generally stood the test of time because of the balance between their pleasurable effects and unpleasant side effects. For instance in the recent Global drugs survey 93% of people who had used both, preferred real cannabis over synthetic cannabis.


NPS come in all shapes, colours and forms. They can come in powder form, dried plant matter, in capsules or pill form.


Ingested, inhaled, injected, smoked


NPS’s are designed to mimic a main stream drug, originally synthetic cannabis was designed to mimic cannabis, however this is not so anymore. Synthetic stimulants mimic other stimulants that are seen more commonly.


Emergency departments around Australia are seeing individuals present with symptoms that do not match they drug they believed they had taken. There is an increased risk of overdoes when taking NPS.

Didn’t find what you wanted here? The YouthAOD toolbox has more information.


As a general rule for any drug, encourage a young person to

  • Be informed and understand what they are taking
  • Not be the first to try something new
  • Take regular breaks from smoking to avoid dependency
  • Only use a small amount to begin with as we cannot be sure the potency of the substance
  • Let the previous dose wear off before using again
  • Use regular cannabis.
  • Avoid using alone, share the experience with someone who has used before or with someone who is not using.
  • Monitor their mental health before using to ensure it is stable
  • Call and ambulance if concerned.
  • See more Universal Harm Reduction Strategies

Check out the ADF Fact Sheet for more info on New psychoactive Substances.

Didn’t find what you wanted here?  The YouthAOD toolbox has more information.