This paper is intended to provide the basis for a discussion of policy options in dealing with new psychoactive substances that show signs of popularity and of harmfulness.
It considers the international context, current approaches to tackling new drugs with a main focus on the USA and Europe, and examines four specific examples of new drugs: BZP, Spice, mephedrone and naphyrone. It also looks at the possible learning from other regulatory frameworks, those for foodstuffs and for alcohol and tobacco.
The report concludes that there is considerable unease with the existing system for making decisions about newly emerging psychoactive substances. Of fundamental concern is the fact that there is an overriding bias in the decision-making process towards the prohibition of new psychoactive substances, but achieving a more balanced set of regulatory decisions is a major task. The existing system has worked well in the sense that no major problem has emerged from a decision to allow into commerce a drug that turns out to be dangerous, the burden of proof for creating an alternative system is thus a heavy one. A research effort to improve understanding of the substitution effects of new entities, as well as an examination of how prohibition of these entities creates market harms, would go a long way toward clarifying the issues.