Novel Psychoactive Substances

Identifying new psychoactive drugs

The continued emergence of novel psychoactive substances (NPS) poses a number of analytical challenges for forensic laboratories. This category of compounds is differentiated from traditional drugs of abuse by having similar mind-altering properties but different chemical structures, thereby avoiding detection by routine targeted mass spectrometry (MS) screening, and acquiring the misnomer “legal highs”.

The problem for law enforcement is that as soon as an NPS is identified by crime labs and outlawed by the authorities, illicit drug makers are quick to synthesize a new one to take its place. The list of NPS are growing at an alarming rate with as many as 1-2 new compounds hitting the streets  each week, according to the European Drug Monitoring Centre. These drugs include synthetic cannabinoids which function similarly as plant-based THC, piperazines and cathinones which mimick conventional amphetamine and MDMA (ecstasy), and other classes of drugs.

Innovations such as online sample preparation and MS methods that allow easy retrospective analysis are improving casework backlog.

Learn about the latest advances in chromatography and MS solutions from Thermo Scientific for confidently identifying NPS, including state-of-the-art high-resolution accurate mass (HRAM) MS Orbitrap technology for reliable screening and confirmation in a single run.

We hope to enable forensic drug testing labs to identify rapidly evolving novel psychoactive drugs faster, and capture traces of tomorrow's drugs today.

Novel psychoactive substances analysis features


Drug testing handbook

More than 800 pages of the most popular applications, publications, webinars, and more to help you get started with your specific drug testing challenges.

Webinar series

Learn how industry experts use mass spectrometry, including LCMS, GCMS, IRMS, DART and more to research and advance forensic analysis and antidoping sport testing.


Forensic chemistry ebook

Download an overview of the current state of forensic chemistry and the latest mass spectrometry technology for identifying rapidly evolving NPS faster.


The field of forensic toxicology is getting more and more interesting, not only for the type of analysis but more so for technologies like HRAM MS that provide reliable identification of fast emerging NPS.

Scientific poster

High-resolution mass data along with complementary data analysis provide confident compound identification for unknowns with limited information.

Slide presentation

Screen, confirm and quantify with Orbitrap technology

High-resolution accurate mass (HRAM) MS with Orbitrap technology is ideally suited for detecting synthetic cannabinoids.