Forensic Toxicological Screening and Confirmation of 800+ Novel Psychoactive Substances by LC-QTOF-MS and 2D-LC Analysis

Melanie Nicole Eckberg, Florida International University


Novel psychoactive substances (NPS) represent a great challenge to toxicologists due to the ability of illicit drug manufacturers to alter NPS chemical structures quickly and with ease to circumvent legislation regulating their use. Each time a new structure is introduced, there is a possibility that it has not been previously recorded in law enforcement or scientific databases. Many toxicology laboratories use targeted analytical methods that rely on libraries of known compounds to identify drugs in samples. However, these libraries do not include large numbers of NPS which could result in non-identification or detection. High-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) has been suggested as a method for screening a wide variety of analytes due to its higher sensitivity and mass accuracy as compared to some other forms of mass spectrometry. This technique can generate characteristic MS/MS spectral data for use in compound identification. The main goal of this research was to create a high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) library of NPS and metabolites, as well as validate a method for screening and confirmation of these substances. The study consisted of three main tasks which included; the development of a large high-resolution MS/MS spectral library and database, validation of a method for screening and confirmation of over 800 NPS and metabolites, and screening of blind-spiked and authentic urine specimens to determine real-world applicability of the HRMS library and method. During validation, several isomeric and structurally related NPS were observed which could not be adequately separated using traditional LC methods. A fourth task was therefore added to investigate improved separation using two-dimensional liquid chromatography (2D-LC). Increased resolving power is achieved in 2D-LC through the coupling of multiple orthogonal separation systems. Ultimately, an on-line, comprehensive method was developed using orthogonal reversed-phase columns in each dimension (RP x RP) for improved separation of co-eluting and isomeric synthetic cannabinoids. This work can aid laboratories in the identification of NPS through the use of a validated LC-QTOF-MS method for screening and confirmation and HRMS spectral library. In instances where isomeric and structurally related NPS are not sufficiently separated, RP x RP methods can be explored.

Subject Area

Analytical chemistry|Chemistry|Toxicology

Recommended Citation

Eckberg, Melanie Nicole, "Forensic Toxicological Screening and Confirmation of 800+ Novel Psychoactive Substances by LC-QTOF-MS and 2D-LC Analysis" (2018). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI27736476.