An effective and easy-to-replicate approach to the identification of synthetic cannabinoids in herbal incense blends by Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS).
The rapid growth in popularity of synthetic cannabinoid use among teens and young adults is of serious concern in the U.S. today. Inadvertent overdosing can lead to severe short-term complications requiring emergency room visits. Complications include convulsions, anxiety attacks, elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, vomiting, hallucinations, paranoia, and disorientation. Long-term health effects are unknown.
Synthetic cannabinoids are THC-mimics that are heavily advertised and readily available to consumers in convenience stores, gas stations, “head shops,” and over the Internet at an affordable price. They are typically formulated in botanical matrices and marketed for sale as “herbal incense” (Figure 1). The lack of homogeneity and variation in potency of these mixtures can lead to harmful dosing. Because they are not marketed for human consumption, there is no oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As such, there is no control over their manufacture, raw material quality, potency, and thus overall safety. The large and growing number of chemical forms of synthetic cannabinoids has impeded their control by law enforcement. As soon as legislation is passed banning the use of a specific form, a new one is synthesized and introduced. Because the formulations are new and rapidly evolving, they are not detected in a routine urine drug screen.
Due to the severe health risks and public threat associated with their use, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) exercised its emergency authority to control five specific synthetic cannabinoids for at least one year while it and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) determine whether permanent control is warranted.1,2 Numerous states in the U.S. have banned specific forms of these chemicals.