Chiral and stable isotope analysis in forensic chemistry: novel psychoactive substance analysis

Tai, Sherlock Shing Chiu (2018) Chiral and stable isotope analysis in forensic chemistry: novel psychoactive substance analysis. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.
Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3343390

Abstract

Synthetic cathinones, a group of novel psychoactive substances, have appeared in drug markets worldwide, causing a range of serious health risks and social problems and hence are controlled by legislation in many countries. Intelligence of synthetic cathinones has become important for law enforcement agencies to prevent the spread of these products. However, literature findings about synthetic cathinones focused on identification and quantification of these compounds in their illicit products and biological specimens. Limited studies have been published concerning the intelligence of this group of novel psychoactive substances. Two analytical techniques, chiral and stable isotope analysis, were hypothesised to have the potential of providing intelligence of illicit synthetic cathinone products due to possible variations of relative enantiomeric abundances of synthetic cathinones and relative stable isotopic abundances of any chemicals among the products. Therefore, analytical methods were aimed to be developed in this thesis for performing the two types of analysis to study their potential of providing intelligence of illicit synthetic cathinone products.

To study the potential of utilising chiral analysis for providing intelligence, two chiral analytical methods involving chromatography and mass spectrometry were investigated for their ability of determining relative enantiomeric abundances of some synthetic cathinones.

In both methods, chiral derivatisation was performed before instrumental analysis. In one of the methods, gas chromatography–mass spectrometry was involved, and thirteen out of fourteen tested pairs of synthetic cathinone enantiomers could be baseline separated using gas chromatography after being derivatised by the reagent, (R)-(−)-α-methoxy-α-(trifluoromethyl)-phenylacetyl chloride. Eight out of the thirteen were further subjected to optimise the derivatisation and instrumental conditions for the method to perform quantitative chiral profiling of them. Method validation results showed that this method was able to quantify five out of the eight pairs of the individual enantiomers accurately and precisely across an approximately 10-fold dynamic range when a quadratic calibration model was used with appropriate deuterated synthetic cathinones as the internal standards. The limits of detection and quantification were ranged from 0.0075 to 0.025 μg and from 0.0225 to 0.05 μg respectively, which are low enough for illicit product analysis. The mass spectrometric method was also found to give the required specificity for illicit synthetic cathinone product analysis.

In the other method, high performance liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry was involved, and eleven out of fourteen tested pairs of synthetic cathinone enantiomers could be baseline separated using high performance liquid chromatography after being derivatised by the reagent, (1R)-(−)-menthyl chloroformate. Three out of the eleven, including two which were not enantio-separated well by the method involving gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, were further subjected to optimise the derivatisation and instrumental conditions for the method to perform quantitative chiral profiling of them. Method validation results showed that this method was able to quantify one of the three pairs of individual enantiomers accurately and precisely across an approximately 67-fold dynamic range when a quadratic calibration model was used with the exact deuterated analogues as the internal standard. The limits of detection and quantification were 0.001 μg and 0.015 μg respectively, which are low enough for illicit product analysis. The tandem mass spectrometric method was also found to be highly specific for illicit synthetic cathinone product analysis.

Despite not a large set of illicit products were obtained as samples to study the potential of utilising chiral analysis for providing intelligence, eight illicit products were analysed to see if any synthetic cathinone with varying relative enantiomeric ratios could be found. All samples were analysed by the method involving GC–MS and were found to be synthetic cathinones. The identities of synthetic cathinones in the samples were further confirmed by 1-dimensional and 2-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Four different synthetic cathinones were identified, with two newly identified (not one of the fourteen which were studied in method development) members also being baseline enantio-separated by the method. Three samples which were identified as 4-methylmethcathinone, were found to be racemic and hence one could not exclude the possibility that they were produced from the same source.

Due to limited number of samples obtained for the study, it is unclear if a wide range of variation of relative enantiomeric abundance of a synthetic cathinone can be observed among illicit products and hence whether chiral analysis could be useful for providing intelligence. Therefore, more samples collected from various known sources should be analysed in future to study the variation of relative enantiomeric abundances of synthetic cathinones. However, the applicability of one of the developed methods has been demonstrated and both gas chromatography and high performance liquid chromatography mass spectrometry are capable for quantitative chiral analysis of various synthetic cathinones.

On the other hand, to study the potential of utilising stable isotope analysis for providing intelligence, analytical methods involving gas chromatography–isotope ratio mass spectrometry were developed, and caffeine, an adulterant commonly found in illicit synthetic cathinone products, was targeted for analysis to determine if stable isotope signature of it could be utilised to distinguish the products which contains it as an ingredient. Commercial sport supplements, which are readily available and may contain caffeine as an ingredient, were used to study the potential of this approach for intelligence of illicit synthetic cathinone products.

Methods of carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis of caffeine in sport supplements were developed and validated. Both carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratio measurements for caffeine were reproducible and independent of the sample amount used for analysis within the dynamic range of about 10s – 100 mg. The extraction method was found to be efficient without causing stable isotope fractionation. In addition, method of hydrogen stable isotope analysis of caffeine was also investigated and found to be reproducible, although the method validation has not yet completed.

Six brands of sport supplements were analysed by the methods. Relative carbon and nitrogen stable isotopic abundances of the caffeine in these products were found to agree with other findings of pure caffeine and various products containing caffeine. The six brands of sport supplements were all distinguishable from each other by comparing the caffeine carbon and nitrogen stable isotope signature, but supplements of a single brand were not distinguished.

To conclude, the potential of utilising caffeine stable isotope signature for providing intelligence of illicit products which contain caffeine as an ingredient, was observed. Real illicit synthetic cathinone products, which contain caffeine, with known sources of production should be analysed in future to determine the usefulness of the approach.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Forensic chemistry, stable isotope analysis, chiral analysis, drug intelligence.
Subjects: Q Science > QD Chemistry
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Medicine, Dentistry & Nursing
Supervisor's Name: Morrison, Dr. Calum
Date of Award: 2018
Embargo Date: 20 February 2020
Depositing User: Dr Sherlock Tai
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-41032
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 20 Feb 2019 16:11
Last Modified: 16 May 2019 07:28
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/41032
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