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RATIONALE

The emergence of numerous cannabinoid designer drugs has been tied to large spikes in emergency room visits and overdoses. Identifying these substances is difficult for the following reasons: (1) the compounds are novel, closely structurally related, and do not usually test positive in drug screens; (2) novel analogs rapidly appear on the market; (3) no standard protocols exist for their identification; and (4) customized and extensive sample preparation/extraction and analysis procedures are required to demonstrate their presence.

METHODS

Direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (DART-MS) employing collision-induced dissociation (CID) provided confirmatory structural information that was useful in characterizing the various cannabinoid analogs, including those contained in mixtures. CID analysis illustrated that, although closely related compounds fragment in a similar fashion, their structural differences still resulted in multiple diagnostic peaks that provided additional confidence towards structural identification.

RESULTS

DART-MS spectra were acquired under CID conditions to rapidly differentiate among five synthetic cannabinoids contained within 'herbal' products purchased locally in New York State (USA). The spectra exhibited [M+H]+ ions and product ions unique to each cannabinoid that corresponded to major structural features. Five different cannabinoid analogs, alone and as mixtures of at least two cannabinoids, were identified in six herbal products and differentiated by their CID product ion patterns.

CONCLUSIONS

Illicit synthetic cannabinoid products continue to be readily available despite national and international restrictions. These products contain a wide range of active components, and, in many cases, multiple active ingredients. DART-MS allows rapid analyses of these synthetic cannabinoids based on the exact masses of their [M+H]+ ions and product ion peaks generated using CID. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.