Study Uses Rats to Determine Abuse Potential of Novel Psychoactive Substances

June 22, 2021 — Working to identify novel psychoactive substances (NPS) can be a strain on the already limited resources of a forensic laboratory. A study recently published in the journal Emerging Trends in Drugs, Addictions, and Health proposes a method of prioritizing NPS by using rats to determine how addictive they can be. By understanding which NPS are most addictive, the forensic community can better anticipate which substances are most likely to surge in popularity on the street.

The team from Virginia Commonwealth University used a procedure on rats called intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS). Electrodes are implanted in the brain of the rat at locations that can stimulate a pleasurable reward sensation. The rats are trained to press a lever to receive this electrical brain stimulation. Drugs of abuse (such as cocaine) are known to cause an in crease in ICSS responses. This study compared rats exposed to alpha-Pyrrolidinohexiophenone (α-PHP) with those given cocaine, as well as those given saline as a negative control.

"Neither saline nor 0.32 mg/kg α-PHP altered ICSS response rates compared to baseline levels of responding; however, doses of 1.0 and 3.2 mg/kg α-PHP and 10 mg/kg cocaine facilitated ICSS responding," report the authors. "This ICSS profile suggests that α-PHP has high abuse potential, with a rapid onset of effects and a long duration of action, and supports the decision to schedule this compound."

The authors conclude that ICSS shows tremendous potential for helping the forensic community learn more and prioritize their focus on emerging drugs of abuse. However, they do acknowledge the hurdle of establishing and maintaining a population of rats trained to push that lever. Additionally, the potential for abuse measured by ICSS is only one factor that may lead to widespread availability of a drug.

"Despite these challenges, we believe that the benefits of this testing algorithm will outweigh the costs," conclude the authors.

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