From early year 2000 different herbal products containing synthetic cannabinoids (SC) have appeared on the drug market all over the world, and new substances are frequently introduced. The prevalence of SC use in different populations is however still mainly unknown, also in Norway. This information is difficult to obtain, but studies of drivers suspected of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID), might provide important information. The aim of this study was to assess the prevalence of SC in drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs in Norway, and investigate if SCs impair driving performance. For two periods of three and four weeks all blood samples from drivers suspected of DUID in Norway were analyzed for the presence of 12 and 18 different SCs, respectively. A new ultra performance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry method was developed. A total of 726 cases were analyzed during our study period, and SCs were detected in 16 cases (2.2%) in total. The mean age of these drivers was 29.6 years. High concentrations of other psychoactive drugs were detected in all the blood samples where a SC was found. AM-2201 and JWH-018 were the most frequently detected SCs, each found in five cases. In addition RSC-4, JWH-122, JWH-081 and JWH-250 were detected. None of the drivers had reported using SCs prior to driving. Despite the limited number of SCs investigated in this 7 week study period, a considerable percent of the cases were positive. Other psychoactive drugs of abuse were always found concomitant with the SCs, and the age of these drivers indicates that experienced drug users also ingest SCs. Since other drugs were found in all the samples, the psychomotor impairment caused by the SCs is difficult to estimate. Our study shows the importance of screening analyses of biological samples from different populations to assess the prevalence of drug use, since self-reporting might be encumbered with significant under-reporting.
Keywords: AM-2201; DUID; JWH-018; Prevalence; Synthetic cannabinoids; UPLC–MS/MS.
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