Detecting “Legal Highs”

“Legal highs” are new psychoactive substances (NPS) which are very similar to illicit drugs such as cannabis, heroin and cocaine. They can be cheaply and easily produced and they have recently gained popularity even amongst casual drug users, often teenagers and young adults, therefore becoming a serious new threat to public health.
Scientists at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) are helping to develop methods by using highly advanced analytical and chemo-informatics tools for the structural characterisation of these unknown psychoactive substances when they enter European territory. Once their chemical “fingerprint” has been established, most analytical laboratories can use it to identify the substances, e.g. customs and police authorities in confiscated samples, as well as hospitals in the blood or urine of drug-related victims.

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