The Drugs WheelExpand Menu
About the Drugs Wheel

The Drugs Wheel was devel­oped in tandem with UK Drugwatch, an informal association of charities, organ­is­ations and indiv­iduals who share an interest in estab­lishing a robust early warning system in the UK for all types of drugs. Guy Jones (technical lead at Reagent Tests UK, and Senior chemist at The Loop) provides ongoing expert­ise, and micro­scopic knowledge of drug com­pounds and UK drug laws.

By 2012 there was an increasing number of new psychoactive subs­tances on the market that didn't fit within previous methods of drug classification. Many substance awareness train­ing sessions made use of an 'Other' category to include drugs such as synthetic canna­binoids, empath­ogenic drugs such as 5-APB and diss­ociatives such as MXE. However this 'Other' category quickly became filled with these new drugs; it was time for a more complete model to adjust to this changing landscape.

Initial attempts to classify drugs by drug type (such as trypt­amine, phen­ethyl­amine, aryl­cyclo­hexyl­amine etc.) proved too complex. However, adding the three new categ­ories of canna­binoids, emp­ath­og­ens and diss­ociatives meant that all drugs could now be placed neatly within one model.

Classifying drugs in this way allows for advice and harm reduc­tion information to be given by cat­egory, meaning that workers don’t need to know in-depth det­ails of every compound.

Using the Drugs Wheel

The Drugs Wheel can be used as a training tool and as a game for use in training or 1:1 sess­ions. There are free ver­sions of each to download on this site, as well as a range of other resources. When using the Drugs Wheel, please bear in mind the following:

The inner and outer rings of the Wheel allow for drugs to be split into further sec­tions: they can be adap­ted for use in your own country or organ­is­ation, for exam­ple they could refer to pres­cribed or non-pres­cribed drugs, or levels of risk.

The issue of prescription drugs is also a topic of discussion when using the Wheel; how these drugs can have rec­rea­tional uses and how their legal status changes depending on whether they have been prescribed for the person taking them.

The Drugs Wheel is a model and as such doesn't aim to list every drug on the market, or pinpoint every compound's effect. Its goal is to simplify the drugs landscape, and as psycho­active drugs affect different people in different ways, some drugs fit into a number of categories. The synthetic cathinones for example can have both stimulant and empathogenic effects that we might associate with altered levels of dopamine and serotonin levels respec­tively (among other neuro­transmitters). The main area of overlap in the Drugs Wheel is that of stim­ulants and empath­ogens, however the empath­ogen cat­egory was included because there are drugs available (such as MDAI) that impact on sero­tonin levels without any noticeable stimulant effects in humans.

Thanks and credits

Thank you to Michael Linnell for donating the majority of the images for the Drugs Wheel game the excellent and NEPTUNE res­ources, Creative Commons for enabling projects such as these to stay non-­commercial, and users of Drugs Forum and Bluelight from around the world for sharing their experiences.

There are now localised or translated Drugs Wheels: Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, Australian, Bulgarian and Polish. In 2019 the Drugs Wheel was taken to new digital heights by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

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