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Retrospective Identification of Synthetic Cannabinoids in Forensic Toxicology Casework Using Archived High Resolution Mass Spectrometry Data

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2020
53 pages

Findings and methodology are presented for a project that developed and used high resolution mass spectrometry that enabled high throughput analysis of biological samples and extracts for the presence of synthetic cannabinoids and/or metabolites.


Analysis was performed using a Sciex TripleTOF 5600+ quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer with SWATH Acquisition. To complement the analysis, a comprehensive library was developed that contained just over 250 parent compounds, metabolites, and internal standards. The library database was regularly updated with emerging synthetic cannabinoids identified by monitoring various intelligence streams. Using the described approach, the project monitored the rise and fall of synthetic cannabinoids and provided intelligence about how quickly newly identified synthetic cannabinoids were being implicated in forensic toxicology casework. The result was to provide laboratories with information about how often their scope of testing needed to be updated and with which new analytes. Synthetic cannabinoids continue to impact morbidity and mortality in the United States, requiring that research efforts be conducted, since the body of knowledge must continue to expand. 17 figures, 7 tables, and 48 references

Date Published: November 1, 2020