The Development and Use of Chatbots in Public Health: Scoping Review

Chatbots are computer programs that present a conversation-like interface through which people can access information and services. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a substantial increase in the use of chatbots to support and complement traditional health care systems. However, despite the uptake in their use, evidence to support the development and deployment of chatbots in public health remains limited. Recent reviews have focused on the use of chatbots during the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of conversational agents in health care more generally. This paper complements this research and addresses a gap in the literature by assessing the breadth and scope of research evidence for the use of chatbots across the domain of public health. Read more

Synthetic Cathinones and Neurotoxicity Risks: A Systematic Review

According to the EU Early Warning System (EWS), synthetic cathinones (SCs) are the second largest new psychoactive substances (NPS) class, with 162 synthetic cathinones monitored by the EU EWS. They have a similar structure to cathinone, principally found in Catha Edulis; they have a phenethylamine related structure but also exhibit amphetamine-like stimulant effects. Illegal laboratories regularly develop new substances and place them on the market. For this reason, during the last decade this class of substances has presented a great challenge for public health and forensic toxicologists.

Acting on different systems and with various mechanisms of action, the spectrum of side effects caused by the intake of these drugs of abuse is very broad. To date, most studies have focused on the substances’ cardiac effects, and very few on their associated neurotoxicity.

Specifically, synthetic cathinones appear to be involved in different neurological events, including increased alertness, mild agitation, severe psychosis, hyperthermia and death. A systematic literature search in PubMed and Scopus databases according to PRISMA guidelines was performed. A total of 515 studies published from 2005 to 2022 (350 articles from PubMed and 165 from Scopus) were initially screened for eligibility. The papers excluded, according to the criteria described in the Method Section (n = 401) and after full text analyses (n = 82), were 483 in total. The remaining 76 were included in the present review, as they met fully the inclusion criteria.

The present work provides a comprehensive review on neurotoxic mechanisms of synthetic cathinones highlighting intoxication cases and fatalities in humans, as well as the toxic effects on animals (in particular rats, mice and zebrafish larvae). The reviewed studies showed brain-related adverse effects, including encephalopathy, coma and convulsions, and sympathomimetic and hallucinogenic toxidromes, together with the risk of developing excited/agitated delirium syndrome and serotonin syndrome.

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From recreational to novel psychotherapeutic drugs

The utility of classical drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders (e.g., antidepressants, anxiolytics) is often limited by issues of lack of efficacy, delayed onset of action or side effects. Psychoactive substances have a long history of being used as tools to alter consciousness and as a gateway to approach the unknown and the divinities. These substances were initially obtained from plants and animals and more recently by chemical synthesis, and its consumption evolved toward a more recreational use, leading to drug abuse-related disorders, trafficking, and subsequent banning by the authorities. Read more

A review of synthetic cathinones emerging in recent years (2019-2022)

The emergence of novel psychoactive substances (NPS) has been being a continuous and evolving problem for more than a decade. Every year, dozens of new, previously unknown drugs appear on the illegal market, posing a significant threat to the health and lives of their users. Synthetic cathinones are one of the most numerous and widespread groups among NPS. The purpose of this work was to identify and summarize available data on newly emerging cathinones in very recent years. Read more

An Update on the Implications of New Psychoactive Substances in Public Health

The emergence of new psychoactive substances has earned a great deal of attention, and several reports of acute poisoning and deaths have been issued involving, for instance, synthetic opiates. Read more

DARK Classics in Chemical Neuroscience: Cathinone-Derived Psychostimulants

Cathinone is a plant alkaloid found in khat leaves of perennial shrubs grown in East Africa. Similar to cocaine, cathinone elicits psychostimulant effects which are in part attributed to its amphetamine-like structure. Around 2010, home laboratories began altering the parent structure of cathinone to synthesize derivatives with mechanisms of action, potencies, and pharmacokinetics permitting high abuse potential and toxicity. Read more

Pharmacotherapy of Patients Taking New Psychoactive Substances: A Systematic Review and Analysis of Case Reports

In recent years, an increase in the frequency of hospitalizations of patients taking newer and newer psychoactive substances has been observed around the world. Each year, authors publish case reports of patients who consumed previously unknown NPS. Most publications of this type concern the period between 2014 and 2016. However, no publication systematically reviews the pharmacotherapy used in these cases. This study aims to review the case reports of patients taking NPS published between 2010 and 2019, as well as analyzing the pharmacotherapy used. Read more

Molecular Mechanisms of Action of Novel Psychoactive Substances

Novel psychoactive substances (NPS) represent a severe health risk for drug users. Even though the phenomenon has been growing since the early 2000s, the mechanisms of action of NPS at the receptors and beyond them are still scarcely understood. The aim of the present study was to provide a systematic review of the updated knowledge regarding the molecular mechanisms underlying the toxicity of synthetic opioids, cannabinoids, cathinones, and stimulants. Read more

New Psychoactive Substances and Suicidality: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature

Background and Objectives:  Over the past twenty years a large number of new psychoactive substances (NPS) have entered and modified the recreational drug scene. Their intake has been associated with health-related risks, especially so for vulnerable populations such as people with severe mental illness, who might be at higher risk of suicidality or self-injurious behavior. This paper aims at providing an overview of NPS abuse and the effects on mental health and suicidality issues, by performing a literature review of the current related knowledge, thereby identifying those substances that, more than others, are linked to suicidal behaviors. Read more