In terms of prevalence of use, in almost all countries some form of synthetic drug is the second most commonly reported substance used. Overall rates of use of these substances in the general population are typically low, but prevalence rates among younger age groups are significantly higher, and the use of these drugs may be particularly high in some social settings and/or among some subcultural groups.
Among the synthetic drugs used in Europe are both stimulants and hallucinogenic substances. Of the latter, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is by far the most well known, but overall consumption levels have been low and somewhat stable for a considerable time. Some evidence is emerging of increasing interest in naturally occurring hallucinogens, and this topic is covered elsewhere in this report.
The term amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) is used to refer to both the amphetamines and the ecstasy group of drugs. Amphetamines is a generic term used to describe a number of chemically related drugs which stimulate the central nervous system, the two most important of which, in terms of the European illicit drug market, are amphetamine and methamphetamine. Of these, amphetamine is by far the most commonly available, although, globally, levels of methamphetamine use are increasing. To date, significant methamphetamine use in Europe appears to be restricted to the Czech Republic, although sporadic reports from elsewhere underline the importance of monitoring as this is a drug known to be associated with a range of severe health problems.
The best-known member of the ecstasy group of drugs is 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), but other related analogues are also sometimes found in ecstasy tablets. These drugs are sometimes known as entactogens, meaning to ‘touch within’, and comprise synthetic substances that are chemically related to amphetamines but which differ to some extent in their effect, as they combine some of the effects more typically found in hallucinogenic substances.