Qualitative analysis of seized synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones by gas chromatography triple quadrupole tandem mass spectrometry

Drug Test Anal. 2015 Feb;7(2):121-30. doi: 10.1002/dta.1667. Epub 2014 May 14.


Designer drugs are analogues or derivatives of illicit drugs with a modification of their chemical structure in order to circumvent current legislation for controlled substances. Designer drugs of abuse have increased dramatically in popularity all over the world for the past couple of years. Currently, the qualitative seized-drug analysis is mainly performed by gas chromatography-electron ionization-mass spectrometry (GC-EI-MS) in which most of these emerging designer drug derivatives are extensively fragmented not presenting a molecular ion in their mass spectra. The absence of molecular ion and/or similar fragmentation pattern among these derivatives may cause the equivocal identification of unknown seized-substances. In this study, the qualitative identification of 34 designer drugs, mainly synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones, were performed by gas chromatography-triple quadrupole-tandem mass spectrometry with two different ionization techniques, including electron ionization (EI) and chemical ionization (CI) only focusing on qualitative seized-drug analysis, not from the toxicological point of view. The implementation of CI source facilitates the determination of molecular mass and the identification of seized designer drugs. Developed multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) mode may increase sensitivity and selectivity in the analysis of seized designer drugs. In addition, CI mass spectra and MRM mass spectra of these designer drug derivatives can be used as a potential supplemental database along with EI mass spectral database.

Keywords: GC-MS/MS; designer drugs; synthetic cannabinoids; synthetic cathinones.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / analysis*
  • Cannabinoids / analysis*
  • Designer Drugs / chemistry*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Limit of Detection
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods


  • Alkaloids
  • Cannabinoids
  • Designer Drugs
  • cathinone