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Development of Ambient Ionization Mass Spectrometric and Multivariate Statistical Analysis Methods for Rapid High Throughput Forensic Analysis and Identification of Psychotropic Plants

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2020
11 pages

This research project tested the central hypothesis that the unique mass spectrometry-derived chemical fingerprints of abused psychoactive plants can be rapidly determined and subjected to multivariate statistical analysis, and the results of such processing can be used for quick genus or species-level identification for the benefit of forensic science practitioners.


Four major findings are reported. First, chemometric analysis of mass spectrometry-derived chemical fingerprints of plants of abuse can be used to identify and differentiate one from another. Second, a reliable set of experimental parameters were developed that could be used to reproducibly generate species-specific mass spectral fingerprints that can be used to identify legal high plants of abuse. Third, validated protocols were developed that enabled quantification of the psychoactive components of plant-based legal highs. Fourth, a highly robust and accurate database, along with an accompanying statistical analysis processing workflow was developed, against which the spectra of plant-based legal high unknowns can be screened, and which enables their species-level identification, with reporting of the statistical accuracy. The hypothesis was investigated through four tasks, which this report describes. This is followed by a description of data analysis. In discussing the implications of the project findings for criminal justice policy and practice in the United States, this report states that the project resulted in the development of needed innovations that had been lacking in the forensic analysis of mind-altering plants. Publications and conferences in which project findings and implications are discussed are listed.

Date Published: October 1, 2020