Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists Detection using Fluorescence Spectral Fingerprinting

Benedict May, Husain Naqi, Michael Tipping, Jenny Scott, Stephen Husbands, Ian Blagbrough, Christopher Pudney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (SciVal)


Synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs), termed "Spice" or "K2", are molecules that emulate the effects of the active ingredient of marijuana, and they have gained enormous popularity over the past decade. SCRAs are Schedule 1 drugs that are highly prevalent in the U.K. prison system and among homeless populations. SCRAs are highly potent and addictive. With no way to determine the dose/amount at the point-of care, they pose severe health risks to users, including psychosis, stroke, epileptic seizures, and they can kill. SCRAs are chemically diverse, with over a hundred compounds used as recreational drugs. The chemical diversity of SCRA structures presents a challenge in developing detection modalities. Typically, GC-MS is used for chemical identification; however, this cannot be in place in most settings where detection is critical, e.g., in hospital Emergency Departments, in custody suites/prisons, or among homeless communities. Ideally, real time, point-of-care identification of SCRAs is desirable to direct the care pathway of overdoses and provide information for informed consent. Herein, we show that fluorescence spectral fingerprinting can be used to identify the likely presence of SCRAs, as well as provide more specific information on structural class and concentration (1 μg mL -1). We demonstrate that that fluorescence spectral fingerprints, combined with numerical modeling, can detect both parent and combusted material, and such fingerprinting is also practical for detecting them in oral fluids. Our proof-of-concept study suggests that, with development, the approach could be useful in a range of capacities, notably in harm reduction for users of Spice/K2.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12971-12979
Number of pages9
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number20
Early online date6 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry


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