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The Utility of Multi-Dimensional Liquid Chromatography for the Analysis of Seized Drugs: Application to Emerging Drugs

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2017
49 pages

The findings and methodology are presented for a research project that examined whether multi-dimensional liquid chromatography (LC) can improve the ability to identify emerging drugs, such as synthetic cannabinoids, bath salts, and phenethylamines, as well as certain of their positional isomers.


The study consisted of three phases. In the first phase, one dimensional (D1) separations were established for synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, and phenethylamines, so as to determine orthogonal separation conditions to use for multi-dimensional separations, The second phase conducted multidimensional separations for all three classes of emerging drugs, using orthogonal separation conditions established in the first phase. These separations consisted of a D1 separation, heart cutting of peaks of interest onto a trapping loop, transfer to an appropriate trapping column (TC), and a complementary second dimension (D2) separation. Repeatability in both retention times and peak areas for both D1 and D2 separations was established, along with the recovery of the peaks off the trapping column. The third and last phase was the analysis of simulated samples of synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, and phenethylamines, using the multi-dimensional chromatographic systems developed in the previous phases. The project succeeded in establishing conditions that enable the routine use of multi-dimensional LC for case work. Based on project results, the researchers conclude that the use of multi-dimensional LC would have a significant impact on the criminal justice system by increasing the likelihood of the correct identification of a seized drug by decreasing the uncertainty of peak identification during a chromatographic run. This benefit would positively impact the backlog of evidence awaiting analysis by the crime laboratory. 44 figures, 10 tables, and 2 references

Date Published: November 1, 2017