Novel Psychoactive Substance Naming Conventions & Challenges

Novel Psychoactive Substance Naming Conventions & Challenges

This webinar originally occurred on July 22, 2021
Duration: 1 hour


Novel psychoactive substances (NPS) present many challenges for the forensic scientist, including the various ways that they are named and how those names are used - both scientifically and colloquially. NPS can be broken down into several categories depending on chemical structure and/or their mechanism of action (such as benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, hallucinogens, opioids, and stimulants). Each of these can then be further categorized into sub-classes, many of which are classified by structural similarity.

Historically, many of these individual sub-classes of NPS have held their own well-recognized naming convention. Sometimes even multiple naming schemes can co-exist for a single drug. One is often faced with multiple synonyms for the same substance, and this is where confusion can arise. A widely adopted and easy-to-use naming convention has been developed for a well-known sub-class of synthetic cannabinoids (e.g. 5F-MDMB-PINACA). This convention is by far the most systematic and widely used for this sub-class. The presenters discussed the existing naming convention and review its strengths and highlight some of its drawbacks.

Intentionally, other NPS sub-classes do not share that same naming convention to avoid confusion. For example, NPS synthetic opioids of the fentanyl sub-class have their own naming convention based on the root name ‘fentanyl.’ NPS that are structurally similar to fentanyl are often named by adding the substituent as a prefix (e.g. para-fluorofentanyl) with a defined designation of the location of that substituent on the core scaffold. The presenters discussed the development of this naming convention and its application.

For synthetic stimulants of the cathinone sub-class, there are many frequently used naming conventions; two popular cathinone naming conventions end in “-ylone” and “-drone,” both of which were covered in this presentation. Understandably, because the NPS drug landscape is complex, so is the development of a well-recognized name. A comprehensive NPS background and a sophisticated understanding of chemistry are necessary to adapt and apply these naming schemes, especially when new drugs emerge that have yet to be named. This webinar reviewed a few examples of how one might approach the naming of a newly discovered NPS and what resources are available to assist in this process.

Detailed Learning Objectives

  1. Attendees will understand the complex NPS landscape and its various classes and sub-classes.
  2. Attendees will examine various naming conventions and the challenges associated with working under multiple conventions within each sub-class.
  3. Attendees will be able to develop a strategy for implementing naming conventions in practice.


  • Donna M. Iula, Ph.D. | Vice President of Forensic Chemistry at Cayman Chemical
  • Alex J. Krotulski, Ph.D. | Associate Director at CFSRE

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence webinar has been provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this webinar are those of the presenter(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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