Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Standard operating procedures exist in our world!

On August 14, 2014, the state of New Hampshire (NH) issued a state of emergency resulting from a series of synthetic cannabinoid-related illnesses. No actual adverse effects were described in Governor Hassan’s press release, but the alleged product was identified as the bubblegum flavor of “Smacked!”. According to reports, starting on August 11, 2014, the product was responsible for adverse effects in at least 41 people across the state of NH. InfectiousChris over at the Dilatant Pharma blog has the overall timeline covered extremely well and also notes that original New York (NY) press release mentions the product name “Smacked!”. I don’t know if this mention means that the "Smacked!" product was actually implicated in the NY illnesses or if it simply was an example of historical product names (similar to K2 and Spice).

K2 Blue, circa 2010-2011 - smelled like blueberry!

It has been 12 total days since the beginning of the NH illnesses and 30 days since the reported NY illnesses. We still have not heard if a specific synthetic cannabinoid has been identified by the DEA or local authorities in NH or NY.

As a drug chemist and forensic toxicologist, I have analyzed tens of thousands of drug samples and biological samples over the course of my career and have focused narrowly on new psychoactive substances over the last 4 or so years. The testing process can be very time consuming and complex. The procedures utilized in the real forensic lab are not reminiscent of those seen on television shows such as CSI or NCIS. We don’t have an Abby Sciuto that shoves the plant material directly into an GC/LC autosampler injector or mass spectrometer ion source (or I don't hope we have her on staff!). Standard operating procedures exist in our world. Chain of custody and documentation is a rule that isn't broken (remember these types of cases and resulting reports have a high probability of ending up as evidence in a criminal trial). Certified reference standards must be in hand. Sample weights must be ascertained via analytical balance. Organic extractions must take place using pH buffers solutions and solvents. Quality control samples must be prepared and then verified. Instrument calibration must be completed. Then we can finally run our case samples! Many times a sample is run twice via separate aliquots on complementary instrumentation to achieve an authentic screen result and a confirmed result. True unknown analysis and structural elucidation is more difficult but can be undertaken as well (if a lab has the analytical capabilities and ultimately time and money).

So, while I am disappointed that the identity of the specific synthetic cannabinoid has yet to be released, I am eagerly awaiting the news. I and others, including InfectiousChris, have placed phone calls and email messages to various people in NH government. Stay tuned for any further updates. But do remember that  even though this is a matter of public health and time is of the essence, the government typically moves at a snail's pace. And there really is no getting around that fact.

If anyone is reading this from NY or NH and needs help in analytical confirmation of any synthetic cannabinoid compound in either product or blood specimen, then please contact me. Either I can try to help or recommend a reputable lab that can help.

If you want my one and a half cents speculation, the offending compound may be an INACA-based synthetic cannabinoid, such as AB-CHMINACA or AB-PINACA (or others pictured above). But that is 100% my own rambling speculative thoughts based on what I know about the current prevalance of these compounds.

Stay safe.



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