Legal Drug (Hanf) QQ, BNA
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Legal Drug (Hanf) QQ, BNA

The prevalence of new psychoactive substances (NPS) produced under non-regulated conditions is on the rise and despite being legal to purchase, NPS pose a huge risk to consumers due to their unpredictable effects. Law enforcement agencies and medical professionals are struggling to keep pace with the quantity of new legal drugs hitting the market every year.

Illegal and legal drugs comprise a wide range of different substances, which differ strongly in their chemical and pharmacological characteristics. New legal drugs are systematically synthesised with the intent to bypass the current narcotics laws.

There can be a high degree of structural similarity between illegal entities and legal analogues, regio-isomers for example, which means that the analytical data used during drug cases should be able to discern between those compounds with certainty. Most legal drugs on the street are mixtures: two or more components blended together, or in order to maximise profits, drugs are laced with many different kinds of substances.

The availability of comprehensive, up-to-date spectral databases is crucial to the successful identification of legal drug substances. In order for toxicology laboratories to always be able to identify new legal drugs, NPS and new legal highs that enter the market, the system can be upgraded by a dedicated spectral library, which is constantly expanded by new substances entering the market.

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is a key technology for the structural identification of illegal and legal drugs. The structural information obtained can be used to streamline the identification and quantification of compounds present in recreational drug substances through the use of library search and matching tools.  

FT-IR is ideal for identifying unknown substances because it’s fast, versatile and is able to analyse solids, liquids, pastes and gases. Unknown substances from mixtures can also be identified, which is vital when sampling legal drugs that may have impurities fillers or cutting agents. Substances are quickly identified from their unique infrared spectrum, which is automatically matched to a database, like identifying a human fingerprint.

Liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) is a third technique used for the identification of NPS and legal drugs. An automated drug testing solution – the Toxtyper 2.0 – provides ultrafast high performance LC-MS/MS results which can be compared with a comprehensive library of 980 substances.