In recent years, many analogs of narcotics have been widely distributed as easily available psychotropic substances and have become a serious problem in Japan. To counter the spread of these non-controlled substances, the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law in Japan was amended in 2006 to establish a new category, "designated substances", to more strictly control these psychotropic substances. Fifty-one substances have been listed in this category as of December 2010. However, many new analogs have appeared, one after the other. Although the distribution of tryptamine-type designer drugs has decreased since the amendment of the law, the distribution of cathinone derivatives, as well as of phenetylamine-type and piperazine-type designer drugs, has increased. Moreover, non-controlled psychotropic plants have become popular in place of chemical psychotropic substances, which are now subject to stricter controls. Additionally, since 2008, new herbal products containing synthetic cannabinoids (for example, a brand named "Spice") have appeared. Sixteen synthetic cannabinoids, classified into four groups, have been detected in products purchased up to December 2010 via Japanese-based websites. The distribution of products containing the psychoactive substances described above (so-called "legal highs" in European countries) is a worldwide problem. In this review, we survey current trends in the abuse of psychotropic substances and plants in Japan, focusing especially on synthetic cannabinoids, cathinone derivatives and psychotropic plants. © 2011 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
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