GHB Free Acid: II. Isolation and Spectroscopic Characterization for Forensic Analysis


  • Presented at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Chicago, IL, 2003.

Additional information and reprint requests:
Mark R. Witkowski, Ph.D.
FDA Forensic Chemistry Center 6751 Steger Drive,
Cincinnati, OH 45237


ABSTRACT: A reference standard for γ-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) free acid is not commercially available, making its analysis in forensic exhibits more difficult. GHB free acid is typically encountered in aqueous solution and in the presence of the lactone, γ-butyrolactone (GBL), presenting difficulty in Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) analysis. The strong infrared (IR) absorptivity of the GBL carbonyl band, the shifting of the GBL carbonyl band in aqueous solutions, and the position of the O–H bend for water can mask the main carbonyl band for GHB free acid. Model solutions of β-hydroxybutyric acid (BHB) and GBL were studied in order to further understand the masking of the GHB free acid carbonyl band in FT-IR analysis. The use of second derivative FT-IR spectroscopy was shown to provide resolution of the free acid carbonyl band, and a presumptive test for GHB free acid was developed and applied. An extension of this work included preparing, for use as a standard reference material, small amounts (≤10 mg) of GHB free acid. Preparation was based on the instantaneous reaction of GHB's sodium salt with a stoichiometric amount of hydrochloric acid in aqueous solution, and subsequent isolation of the free acid in neat liquid form. Both FT-IR and proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectra of the neat reference material were obtained and used to verify its identity. The isolation of GHB free acid from actual forensic exhibits is also presented, with identity confirmation using FT-IR.