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Novel Psychoactive Substances: Experienced effects, attitudes, and motivations among online drug community users
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Department of Social and Psychological Studies.
2018 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The aim of the present research is to contribute to the bridging of the knowledge gap pertaining to the field of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) and its online community of users. The findings demonstrate that the community is characterized by robust group cohesiveness and counter public attitudes. The discussions functioned as a cumulative exchange of peer-to-peer generated knowledge and a social support system in service of harm reduction. The users were experienced drug users generally driven by recreation, novelty, and a range of instrumental purposes. They were also knowledgeable and presented a good degree of well-being. Some of the more conspicuous incentives for NPS use included the seeking of novel and exciting adventures, the enabling of safer drug use circumstances, and the guinea-pig-like self-experimenting in service of the community. Several distinct motivation and risk profiles were found at the level of drug groups. For example, the stimulants, opioids and GABA activating substances were associated with performance enhancement, coping, and high abuse liability, while the hallucinogens were related to self-exploration, spiritual attainment, and significantly lower abuse potential. Three user orientations are outlined: 1) the risk-negligent sensation seeker with an interest in stimulants and enhancement, 2) the self-medicating pursuer of coping with mistrust in public health and proneness for sedative drugs, and 3) the well-informed self-explorer advocating harm reduction and hallucinogens. It is concluded that the field of NPS needs to be approached with more sophistication than the broad brush approach of drugs in general. A one fits all preventive solution is likely to be ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. We may also benefit from recognizing most drug use as an adaptive function with instrumental value rather than something pathologic, which will run the risk of fueling potentially harmful behaviors like self-medicating and avoidance of health care. Moreover, prohibition not only drives potentially harmful substance displacement but may also serve as the key incentive for engagement in risky behaviors. The current investigations could be a starting point for science based benefit-risk evaluations and the development of more appropriate prevention messages.

Abstract [en]

The unprecedented increase of legally ambiguous and easily available Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) constitutes a challenge for legislators, public health agencies, and researchers alike. Therefore, the aim of the present investigations is to contribute to knowledge about the online NPS community, including the users’ experienced effects and motivations for use. The findings demonstrate that the community is characterized by robust group cohesiveness, counter public attitudes, and a focus on harm reduction. A range of diverse reasons for NPS use were revealed and described in more detail than previous accounts. Several distinct motivation and risk profiles were identified at the level of drug groups. The results point to the occurrence of at least three user orientations including the risk-negligent sensation seeker, the self-medicating pursuer of coping, and the well-informed self-explorer. It is concluded that the diverse field of NPS needs to be approached with more sophistication than the broad brush approach of drugs in general. A one fits all preventive solution is likely to be ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. We may also benefit from recognizing most drug use as an adaptive function with instrumental value rather than something pathologic, which will run the risk of fueling potentially harmful behaviors like self-medicating and drug user stigmatization and alienation. Moreover, prohibition not only drives presumably harmful substance displacement but may also serve as the key incentive for engagement in risky behaviors. The current investigations could be a starting point for science based benefit-risk evaluations, greater appreciation of the users’ views, and the development of more effective prevention.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Karlstad: Karlstads universitet, 2018. , p. 91
Series
Karlstad University Studies, ISSN 1403-8099 ; 2018:2
Keywords [en]
Novel psychoactive substances, drugs, legal highs, Internet, forum, ethylphenidate, discussions, motivations, harm reduction, substance displacement
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-65430ISBN: 978-91-7063-828-2 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7063-923-4 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kau-65430DiVA, id: diva2:1167258
Public defence
2018-02-16, 1 B 306, Fryxellsalen, Karlstad, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2018-01-19 Created: 2017-12-18 Last updated: 2018-04-03Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Harm-reduction and knowledge exchange: A qualitative analysis of drug related Internet discussion forums
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Harm-reduction and knowledge exchange: A qualitative analysis of drug related Internet discussion forums
2014 (English)In: Harm Reduction Journal, ISSN 1477-7517, E-ISSN 1477-7517, Vol. 11, no 25Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background: Novel psychoactive substances (NPS) are continuously and increasingly appearing on the international drug market. Global Internet forums are a publicly available reality where users anonymously discuss and share information about NPS. The aim of this study was to explore and characterize the discussions about NPS on international Internet forums.

Methods: The most post-frequent NPS discussions were collected from three “leading edge” international Internet forums. A total of 13,082 posts from 60 threads of discussion were systematically examined and interpreted to reveal recurring topics and patterns. Each thread was coded with emerging topics and supporting quotations from the data set. Eventually, codes with coherent meaning were arranged into 51 broader categories of abstraction, which were combined into four overarching themes.

Results: Four themes emerged during the analysis: (1) uncovering the substance facts, (2) dosage and administration, (3) subjectively experienced effects, and (4) support and safety. The first theme dealt primarily with substance identification, pharmacology, and assessed not only purity but also legal status and acquisition. The second theme focused on administration techniques, dose recommendations, technical talk about equipment, and preferred settings for drug use. The third theme involved a multitude of self-reported experiences, in which many different aspects of intoxication were depicted in great detail. The users emphasized both positive and negative experiences. The last theme incorporated the efforts of the communities to prevent and minimize harm by sharing information about potential risks of the harmful effects or contraindications of a substance. Also, online support and guidance were given to intoxicated persons who experienced bad or fearful reactions.

Conclusions: The findings showed that the discussions were characterized by a social process in which users supported each other and exchanged an extensive and cumulative amount of knowledge about NPS and how to use them safely. Although this publicly available knowledge could entail an increase in drug use, the main characteristics of the discussions in general were a concern for safety and harm reduction, not for recruiting new users. Drug-related Internet forums could be used as a location for drug prevention, as well as a source of information for further research about NPS. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
London: BioMed Central, 2014
Keywords
novel psychoactive substances, legal highs, research chemicals, Internet drugs, harm reduction, Intrenet forum, drug use
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-33644 (URN)10.1186/1477-7517-11-25 (DOI)000341788700001 ()25200686 (PubMedID)
Projects
Internetdroger
Available from: 2014-09-12 Created: 2014-09-12 Last updated: 2017-12-18Bibliographically approved
2. Chasing the High: Experiences of Ethylphenidate as Described on International Internet Forums
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Chasing the High: Experiences of Ethylphenidate as Described on International Internet Forums
2015 (English)In: Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, ISSN 1178-2218, E-ISSN 1178-2218, no 9, p. 9-16Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Ethylphenidate is a novel psychoactive substance with undocumented effects, risks, and motivation for use. In this study, we investigated the experience of ethylphenidate by analyzing self-reports published on Internet forums, which revealed seven overarching themes: (1) compulsive redosing and addiction; (2) impacts on the mental state; (3) bodily agitation; (4) increased sociableness; (5) administration; (6) diverse evaluations based on intention; and (7) safety and precaution. Ethylphenidate appeared as a potent psychostimulant with an imminent abuse potential. It was mainly used for recreational purposes. The effects included not only pleasurable stimulation, euphoria, and cognitive enhancement but also indecisiveness, anxiety, and cognitive frag- mentation. The users reported an increase in body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, but they also experienced profuse sweating and muscle ten- sion. Ethylphenidate acted as a social lubricant, enhancing intimacy, communication, and social skills. Two opposing user mentalities were uncovered: (1) pleasure seeking and risk neglecting, and (2) safety-first orientation. This information could be of importance to legislators, public health personnel, and prevention strategists. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Libertas Academica, 2015
Keywords
ethylphenidate, novel psychoactive substance, legal high, research chemical, Internet drug, drug use
National Category
Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-35773 (URN)10.4137/SART.S22495 (DOI)000213885000003 ()
Projects
Internetdroger
Funder
Swedish National Institute of Public Health
Available from: 2015-04-07 Created: 2015-04-07 Last updated: 2017-12-18Bibliographically approved
3. The users of Novel Psychoactive Substances: Online survey about their characteristics, attitudes and motivations
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The users of Novel Psychoactive Substances: Online survey about their characteristics, attitudes and motivations
2016 (English)In: International journal on drug policy, ISSN 0955-3959, E-ISSN 1873-4758, Vol. 32, p. 77-84Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background: The increasing number of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) constitutes a challenge for public health agencies and researchers worldwide. Scientific studies about NPS and their users are limited and there is a need to explore the general motivations for NPS use but also to examine if and how the motivations differ between substances from separate effect classes. The aim of the present study was to investigate the characteristics, including attitudes and motivations, of a self-selected sample of international NPS users.

Methods: An online survey containing questions about drug use history, attitudes, motivations for use, and WHO-5 Wellbeing Index was promoted at the drug discussion forum bluelight.org. The data was analysed using SPSS. Results: The sample consisted of 619 international NPS users with overall good emotional well-being despite extensive experience of both traditional and novel drugs. The main incentive for use of NPS in general was pleasure and enjoyment. However, going beyond the general approach to NPS revealed significant variations between drug groups. For example, the use of hallucinogens was substantially motivated by self-exploration and spiritual attainment and showed very low levels of addiction potential while the use of opioids and especially GABA activating substances was mainly motivated by coping and showed much higher levels of addiction potential. Synthetic cannabinoids were the least appreciated and least likely to be used again, and were mainly motivated by circumstances such as availability and legality.

Conclusion: Understanding the different motivations for NPS use in terms of drug groups could enable more effective prevention and consequently a reduction in harm. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
elsevier: , 2016
Keywords
Novel Psychoactive Substances, Motivation, Drugs, Legal highs, Internet
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-42038 (URN)10.1016/j.drugpo.2016.03.007 (DOI)000378457700012 ()
Projects
Ungdomar och Internetdroger
Funder
Public Health Agency of Sweden
Available from: 2016-05-17 Created: 2016-05-17 Last updated: 2017-12-18Bibliographically approved
4. The diverse reasons for using Novel Psychoactive Substances - A qualitative study of the users' own perspectives
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The diverse reasons for using Novel Psychoactive Substances - A qualitative study of the users' own perspectives
2018 (English)In: International journal on drug policy, ISSN 0955-3959, E-ISSN 1873-4758, Vol. 52, p. 71-78Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background

The increasing number of legally ambiguous and precarious Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) constitutes a challenge for policy makers and public health. Scientific and more in-depth knowledge about the motivations for using NPS is scarce and often consist of predetermined, non-systematic, or poorly described reasons deduced from top-down approaches. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to explore and characterize the users’ self-reported reasons for NPS use inductively and more comprehensively.

Methods

The self-reported reasons of a self-selected sample of 613 international NPS users were collected via an online survey promoted at the international drug discussion forum bluelight.org and later analyzed qualitatively using inductive thematic analysis.

Results

The analysis showed that the participants used NPS because these compounds reportedly: 1) enabled safer and more convenient drug use, 2) satisfied a curiosity and interest about the effects, 3) facilitated a novel and exciting adventure, 4) promoted self-exploration and personal growth, 5) functioned as coping agents, 6) enhanced abilities and performance, 7) fostered social bonding and belonging, and 8) acted as a means for recreation and pleasure. The consumption of NPS was also driven by 9) problematic and unintentional use.

Conclusion

The present study contributed to a more comprehensive understanding of the users’ own and self-reported reasons for using NPS, which needs to be acknowledged not only in order to minimize drug related harm and drug user alienation but also to improve prevention efforts and reduce the potentially counter-intuitive effects of strictly prohibitive policies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2018
Keywords
novel psychoactive substances; motivation; drugs; legal highs; internet
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-65428 (URN)10.1016/j.drugpo.2017.11.003 (DOI)
Available from: 2017-12-18 Created: 2017-12-18 Last updated: 2017-12-28Bibliographically approved

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