The definition New psychoactive substances (NPS) refers to emerging drugs whose
chemical structures are similar to other psychoactive compounds but not identical, representing a
“legal” alternative to internationally controlled drugs. There are many categories of NPS, such as
synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, phenylethylamines, piperazines, ketamine derivatives
and tryptamines. Tryptamines are naturally occurring compounds, which can derive from the amino
acid tryptophan by several biosynthetic pathways: their structure is a combination of a benzene ring
and a pyrrole ring, with the addition of a 2-carbon side chain. Tryptamines include serotonin and melatonin as well as
other compounds known for their hallucinogenic properties, such as psilocybin in ‘Magic mushrooms’ and
dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in Ayahuasca brews.
Aim: To review the scientific literature regarding tryptamines and their derivatives, providing a summary of all the
available information about the structure of these compounds, their effects in relationship with the routes of
administration, their pharmacology and toxicity, including articles reporting cases of death related to intake of these
Methods: A comprehensive review of the published scientific literature was performed, using also non peer-reviewed
information sources, such as books, government publications and drug user web fora.
Conclusions: Information from Internet and from published scientific literature, organized in the way we proposed in this
review, provides an effective tool for specialists facing the emerging NPS threat to public health and public security,
including the personnel working in Emergency Department.