Quadrupole-time-of-flight mass spectrometry screening for synthetic cannabinoids in herbal blends
van Nuijs, Alexander L.N.
Faculty of Pharmaceutical, Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences. Pharmacy
Journal of mass spectrometry. - Chichester
, p. 685-694
'Legal highs' are novel substances which are intended to elicit a psychoactive response. They are sold from 'head shops', the internet and from street suppliers and may be possessed without legal restriction. Several months ago, a 19-year-old woman came searching for medical treatment as she had health problems caused by smoking legal highs. The substances were sold as herbal blends in plastic bags under four different labels. In this work, samples of these herbal blends have been analysed to investigate the presence of psychoactive substances without any reference standard being available at the laboratory. A screening strategy for a large number of synthetic and natural cannabinoids has been applied based on the use of ultra-high pressure liquid chromatography coupled to quadrupole-time of flight mass spectrometry (UHPLC-QTOF MS) under MSE mode. A customized home-made database containing literature-based exact masses for parent and product ions of around 200 synthetic and natural cannabinoids was compiled. The presence of the (de)protonated molecule measured at its accurate mass was evaluated in the samples. When a peak was detected, collision-induced dissociation fragments and characteristic isotopic ions were also evaluated and used for tentative identification. After this tentative identification, four synthetic cannabinoids (JWH-081, JWH-250, JWH-203 and JWH-019) were unequivocally confirmed by subsequent acquisition of reference standards. The presence in the herbal blends of these synthetic cannabinoids might explain the psychotic and catatonic symptoms observed in the patient, as JWH compounds could act as potent agonists of CB1 and CB2 receptors located in the Limbic System and Basal ganglia of the human brain. Copyright (C) 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.