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Pharmacology of MDMA- and Amphetamine-Like New Psychoactive Substances

  • Linda D. Simmler
  • Matthias E. Liechti
Part of the Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology book series


New psychoactive substances (NPS) with amphetamine-, aminoindan-, and benzofuran basic chemical structures have recently emerged for recreational drug use. Detailed information about their psychotropic effects and health risks is often limited. At the same time, it emerged that the pharmacological profiles of these NPS resemble those of amphetamine or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Amphetamine-like NPS induce psychostimulation and euphoria mediated predominantly by norepinephrine (NE) and dopamine (DA) transporter (NET and DAT) inhibition and transporter-mediated release of NE and DA, thus showing a more catecholamine-selective profile. MDMA-like NPS frequently induce well-being, empathy, and prosocial effects and have only moderate psychostimulant properties. These MDMA-like substances primarily act by inhibiting the serotonin (5-HT) transporter (SERT) and NET, also inducing 5-HT and NE release. Monoamine receptor interactions vary considerably among amphetamine- and MDMA-like NPS. Clinically, amphetamine- and MDMA-like NPS can induce sympathomimetic toxicity. The aim of this chapter is to review the state of knowledge regarding these substances with a focus on the description of the in vitro pharmacology of selected amphetamine- and MDMA-like NPS. In addition, it is aimed to provide links between pharmacological profiles and in vivo effects and toxicity, which leads to the conclusion that abuse liability for amphetamine-like NPS may be higher than for MDMA-like NPS, but that the risk for developing the life-threatening serotonin syndrome may be increased for MDMA-like NPS.


4-FA 4-Fluoroamphetamine 5-IT Aminoindans Amphetamine Benzofurans DAT Dopamine MDMA Monoamines NET Noradrenaline NPS Release Serotonin SERT Uptake 

Acronyms of the Discussed New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)





















5-IT, 5-API


























The authors would like to thank Dr. Patrick Burch for the design of Fig. 1. LDS is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF; PZ00P3_174178). MEL is supported by the Federal Office of Public Health (16.921318) and the SNSF (320030149493 and 320030_170249).


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Basic NeurosciencesUniversity of GenevaGenevaSwitzerland
  2. 2.Division of Clinical Pharmacology and ToxicologyUniversity Hospital BaselBaselSwitzerland

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