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Characterization of Designer Drugs: Chemical Stability, Exposure, and Metabolite Identification, Final Summary Overview and Appendix

NCJ Number
Megan Grabenauer; Katherine N. Moore; Brian F. Thomas
Date Published
April 2015
53 pages

The goals of this research were to determine the stability of currently popular designer drugs and identify major degradation products, including pyrolysis products, as well as to identify their major metabolites.


Currently, little is known about the pharmacological and toxicological profiles of designer drugs such as synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones. The consequences of their long-term use have yet to be studied; and behavioral and metabolic studies have been performed on a limited number of compounds. The detection of these designer drugs is challenging, because bans on specific compounds result in the drug manufacturers' rapid substitution of closely related analogs. The current project initially focused on compounds from the JWH and AM series of synthetic cannabinoids and then expanded to include emerging designer drugs as they became prevalent. The research identified metabolites suitable as potential markers of the degradation products and pyrolysis products that may be left in an ash residue. The latter can be used for confirmation of the presence of parent compound. The dataset is extensive and is a reliable starting point for forensic laboratories to develop assays for detection of use and as confirmation of the presence of parent compound within residues. Although new designer drugs continue to enter the market, within each class of designer drugs the elements of chemical structure and design often follow known or rational substitution patterns required to enhance or retain pharmacological activity. A thorough and systematic study of families of structurally related compounds enables the prediction of markers for broad classes of compounds. Project methodology is described in detail. Appended list of eight conference presentations with detailed results