Project overview

Content

Introduction

Aims

Methodology

Monitoring the web

Preparation of technical folders

Dissemination

Please note that although the funding period has ended we are continuing the monitoring of the web and preparation of technical reports. However, given the limited resources currently available, we are not able to regularly update the website and respond quickly to queries.

Introduction

There is a vast array of medical and psychological literature available on drug abuse and recreational drug use.  However, scientific journals and references books are not an adequate resource for gaining technical knowledge of novel recreational compounds as most of the information about new drugs and new trends is not evidence-based.  Indeed, the history of diffusion of any novel psychoactive compound usually starts in closed settings, within restricted groups of "learned/educated" users: the "psychonauts". During 2002-2004, the EU Commission funded the Psychonaut 2002 Project (for an overview, see Schifano et al, 2006a). During the Psychonaut 2002 Project, information on 92 novel compounds, and on some idiosyncratic combinations, not previously commented on in scientific literature covered by MedLine was found.  Moreover, there is evidence that for some psychoactive compounds the large body of knowledge available online seems to contrast with small numbers of seizures at street level.

Without the appropriate knowledge of those recreational drugs which are available to potential consumers, both health professionals and health agencies cannot carry out an accurate assessment of possible drug-induced medical and psychiatric consequences. There is a need for collaboration between different countries to tackle the problem. This project will develop a web scanning tool that can complement the sources of information available at the EU level. The information about the substances (of either synthetic or herbal origin) detected by the web scanning tool will be compiled and characterised according to a well established methodology, to allow unequivocal product identification.

Aims

The aims of the Psychonaut Web Mapping Project are:-

  • To implement a regular monitoring of the web in respect to novel recreational drugs; and
  • To set up a web scanning system which will formally liaise with the existing EMCDDA European EWS.

In doing so, specific scanning software will be used. The search will be performed in formulating queries in 9 different languages, and particular attention will be given to the qualitative analysis of drug related slang used. Initial information on novel compounds detected will be passed on to the EMCDDA for validation. Although, during the 2-year proposed project duration, a few hundred psychoactive compounds, either synthetic or herbal, will be provisionally identified online, technical folders will be prepared for a few dozen novel compounds identified in the first phase and for which some level of diffusion in the EU recreational consumers' community is confirmed. Information about the project findings will be posted to a number of health agencies per EU country, and will contribute to the EMCDDA/E-POD system.

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Methodology

Step 1: Monitoring of the web (i.e., websites, chatrooms, newsgroups, forums)

Monitoring of the web with respect to novel (synthetic and herbal) drugs of misuse, using both quantitative and qualitative approaches.  Appropriate scanning software will make exploring large numbers of web sites easier and more reliable.  Resulting pages will eventually be checked for relevance/appropriateness.  To get further information on selected compounds, purposeful web site sampling will be carried out. 

Survey data will include: 

  • URL of the web page;
  • Website relevance
  • Ranking;
  • Type of organisation owning the domain;
  • Country of origin;
  • Purchase possibilities. 

Information on novel compounds gathered in this first phase will be passed on to the EMCDDA for validation. 
The Psychonaut WEB MAPPING will focus on: 

  • Novel synthetic drugs;
  • Chemical intermediates which may be of use in the preparation of active substances of medicinal products (incl. veterinary products); and
  • Compounds of an 'other' origin. (i.e., herbal, 'ecological', 'ethno drugs').

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Step 2: Preparation of Technical Folders

Technical evaluation of the novel compounds, using web-based resources, medical/scientific literature, and qualitative analysis within groups of 'key informants' (i.e., clinicians in the Psychonaut WEB MAPPING network, ravers/clubbers, Community Drug Teams, clients, web users (via web surveys etc.) acting as 'sentinel networks'.

A technical folder for each compound will then be prepared, providing information on: the known name(s) of the compound (formal/chemical and common/slang); chemical pharmacological, toxicologicalcharacteristics of the compound; appearance, consumption, and availbility; and any other relevant details (for more information on technical folders click here). Once again, the information gathered during this phase will be sent to the EMCDDA for validation.

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Step 3: Dissemination of the information and implementation of the Psychonaut WEB MAPPING web site. 

Selected technical folders will be places on the web site, whose access will be restricted to identified health professionals and health agencies in the EU for the identification of emerging drug trends.  Furthermore, newsletters outlining novel compounds/combinations will be available to subscribers.  The newsletters will make available the range of information gathered in the earlier steps regarding the novel psychoactive compounds.