Forensic investigation of K2, Spice, and "bath salt" commercial preparations: a three-year study of new designer drug products containing synthetic cannabinoid, stimulant, and hallucinogenic compounds

Forensic Sci Int. 2013 Dec 10;233(1-3):416-22. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2013.10.002. Epub 2013 Oct 14.


New designer drugs such as K2, Spice, and "bath salts" present a formidable challenge for law enforcement and public health officials. The following report summarizes a three-year study of 1320 law enforcement cases involving over 3000 products described as vegetable material, powders, capsules, tablets, blotter paper, or drug paraphernalia. All items were seized in Arkansas from January 2010 through December 2012 and submitted to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory for analysis. The geographical distribution of these seizures co-localized in areas with higher population, colleges, and universities. Validated forensic testing procedures confirmed the presence of 26 synthetic cannabinoids, 12 designer stimulants, and 5 hallucinogenic-like drugs regulated by the Synthetic Drug Prevention Act of 2012 and other state statutes. Analysis of paraphernalia suggests that these drugs are commonly used concomitantly with other drugs of abuse including marijuana, MDMA, and methamphetamine. Exact designer drug compositions were unpredictable and often formulated with multiple agents, but overall, the synthetic cannabinoids were significantly more prevalent than all the other designer drugs detected. The synthetic cannabinoids JWH-018, AM2201, JWH-122, JWH-210, and XLR11 were most commonly detected in green vegetable material and powder products. The designer stimulants methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylcathinone (methylone), and α-methylamino-valerophenone (pentedrone) were commonly detected in tablets, capsules, and powders. Hallucinogenic drugs were rarely detected, but generally found on blotter paper products. Emerging designer drug products remain a significant problem and continued surveillance is needed to protect public health.

Keywords: Bath salts; Designer drug; Hallucinogen; K2; Stimulant; Synthetic cannabinoid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Benzodioxoles / chemistry
  • Cannabinoids / chemistry
  • Capsules
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / chemistry
  • Designer Drugs / chemistry*
  • Dronabinol / chemistry
  • Hallucinogens / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Indoles / chemistry
  • Methamphetamine / analogs & derivatives
  • Methamphetamine / chemistry
  • Methylamines / chemistry
  • Molecular Structure
  • Naphthalenes / chemistry
  • Paper
  • Pentanones / chemistry
  • Powders
  • Pyrrolidines / chemistry
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Synthetic Cathinone
  • Tablets


  • 1-(5-fluoropentyl)-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole
  • 4-ethylnaphthalen-1-yl-(1-pentylindol-3-yl)methanone
  • Benzodioxoles
  • Cannabinoids
  • Capsules
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Designer Drugs
  • Hallucinogens
  • Indoles
  • Methylamines
  • Naphthalenes
  • Pentanones
  • Powders
  • Pyrrolidines
  • Tablets
  • pentedrone
  • (4-methyl-1-naphthyl)-(1-pentylindol-3-yl)methanone
  • Methamphetamine
  • Dronabinol
  • 1-pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole
  • methylone
  • Synthetic Cathinone