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Keeping pace with NPS releases: fast GC-MS screening of legal high products


Correspondence to: Mark G. Baron, School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln, LN6 7TS, UK. E-mail:


The continuous appearance of novel psychoactive substances (NPS) in legal high products presents a challenge for the routine analytical laboratory. A rapid screening method for NPS analysis using fast gas chromatography mass spectrometry (fast GC-MS) is presented. Twenty-three analytes, including 5-iodo-2-aminoindane (5-IAI), 1-(thiophen-2-yl)-2-methylaminopropane (MPA), 1-benzylpiperazine (BZP), 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone), 5,6-methylenedioxy-2-aminoindane (MDAI) and methoxetamine (MXE) were separated within 4 min. The method was used to analyze 35 Internet and head shop purchased ‘legal high’ products with the successful identification of their active ingredients. As previously observed, legal high products do not always contain their stated ingredients. Of the group of products purchased as 5-IAI not one contained 5-IAI with several containing mixtures of substances either already controlled in the UK or under consideration by the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

The low bleed and high inertness of the chromatography column used ensured clean high quality mass spectrometry data which when combined with the short run time resulted in an efficient tool for NPS screening, even when standards were unavailable. Electron impact and chemical ionization mass spectra used in combination for the identification of unknown NPS are presented. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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