Point-of-care detection of synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists

Project: Research council

Project Details


Our proposal seeks to deliver a healthcare technology that will benefit the most vulnerable in society. Synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs, more commonly called Spice) are endemic in UK homeless communities and the prison population. These drugs fall under recent Novel Psychoactive Substance legislation. The challenge with these drugs is that there is no generic point-of-care detection, meaning treatment and harm reduction strategies are essentially impossible. The use of these drugs leads not only to significant adverse health outcomes for users but also major social problems owing the drugs common side effects which can include psychosis and aggression.

Our proposal builds on our recent advances in fluorescence spectral fingerprinting of SCRAs to identify these drugs both in street material and in saliva of users. The proposal covers the full range of activities necessary to deliver the technology to beta testing, including portable device design, analytical software development, chemical fingerprint libraries and the associated community pharmacy practice advice to deploy the technology effectively.

At the end of the award we aim to start a not-for-profit social enterprise to bring the technology to the mainstream. The proposal includes partners from the full range of stakeholders relevant to SCRA use including homeless charities, police forces and prisons and drug testing services. Our proposal leverages the contributions of these partners with a carefully selected interdisciplinary research team (analytical/synthetic chemistry, optics engineering, artificial intelligence, community pharmacy and addiction psychology) that can support and deliver each aspect of the proposal.

We believe the scope and potential of our proposal is truly unique and presents the best chance for tackling SCRA use in the UK and more widely.
Effective start/end date1/07/2130/06/24

Collaborative partners

  • University of Bath (lead)
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Avon and Somerset Police
  • Bristol Drugs Project Ltd.
  • Developing Health & Independence
  • European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction
  • Greater Manchester Police (The)
  • HMP Hull
  • TICTAC Communications Ltd
  • University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust


  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

RCUK Research Areas

  • Chemical measurement
  • Instrumentation Engineering and Development


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