Photochemical Fingerprinting Is a Sensitive Probe for the Detection of Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists; Toward Robust Point-of-Care Detection

Rachael Andrews, Benedict May, Frederico Javier Hernández, Piers Townsend, Gyles Cozier, Oliver B Sutcliffe, Tom S. F. Haines, Tom Freeman, Jenny Scott, Stephen Husbands, Ian Blagbrough, Richard Bowman, Simon Lewis, Matthew Grayson, Rachel Crespo-Otero, Dave Carbery, Christopher Pudney

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With synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist (SCRA) use still prevalent across Europe and structurally advanced generations emerging, it is imperative that drug detection methods advance in parallel. SCRAs are a chemically diverse and evolving group, which makes rapid detection challenging. We have previously shown that fluorescence spectral fingerprinting (FSF) has the potential to provide rapid assessment of SCRA presence directly from street material with minimal processing and in saliva. Enhancing the sensitivity and discriminatory ability of this approach has high potential to accelerate the delivery of a point-of-care technology that can be used confidently by a range of stakeholders, from medical to prison staff. We demonstrate that a range of structurally distinct SCRAs are photochemically active and give rise to distinct FSFs after irradiation. To explore this in detail, we have synthesized a model series of compounds which mimic specific structural features of AM-694. Our data show that FSFs are sensitive to chemically conservative changes, with evidence that this relates to shifts in the electronic structure and cross-conjugation. Crucially, we find that the photochemical degradation rate is sensitive to individual structures and gives rise to a specific major product, the mechanism and identification of which we elucidate through density-functional theory (DFT) and time-dependent DFT. We test the potential of our hybrid "photochemical fingerprinting"approach to discriminate SCRAs by demonstrating SCRA detection from a simulated smoking apparatus in saliva. Our study shows the potential of tracking photochemical reactivity via FSFs for enhanced discrimination of SCRAs, with successful integration into a portable device.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-713
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number2
Early online date4 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2023


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