Combining Compact Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and databases to elucidate illicit drugs

In partnership with Service National de Police Scientifique (SNPS) in Lyon, Chemistry And Interdisciplinarity: Synthesis Analysis Modeling (CEISAM) laboratory proposes a novel method using compact Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy combined with multi-method databases to identify and also, for the first time, to elucidate the composition of drugs seized by the Police. Less expensive, more accessible and more sustainable than high field NMR, compact NMR with reduced fields has made it possible to characterize illicit drugs precisely in order to better regulate them.

In recent years, new psychoactive substances or NPS have emerged in Europe. These substances represent a threat to public health because their consumption is increasing in Europe. Indeed, NPS are either legal but misused commercial molecules or chemically modified and therefore illegal. They can be sold on the street or most often on the internet and consumed at festive events as recreational drugs and can lead to deaths by overdose. In order to better regulate NPS in real time, it becomes important to characterize them precisely in order to prohibit them. In this context, it is essential to have analytical techniques such as NMR, capable of elucidating unknown compounds of seizures even in mixtures.

For more than a decade, compact NMR spectrometers have emerged to overcome the problems associated with high magnetic field NMR: high purchase, maintenance and operating costs, environmental costs as well as the spectrometer bulkiness. However, due to the reduced magnetic field of these transportable instruments, their applicability is impacted because their sensitivity and resolution are also lower. In order to improve the performance of these instruments, we have implemented a set of optimized one- and two-dimensional NMR experiments on a compact spectrometer (60 MHz for 1H). By combining these approaches with Infrared spectroscopy, we have created a multi-method database to characterize pure and mixed NPS (see Figure). This integrated analytical platform was blindly validated on 6 real samples seized by the Police. In addition, NMR quantification was used to assess the purity of each NPS, allowing for better tracing of trafficking networks.

This transportable multi-method platform will provide the police and more broadly forensic laboratories with affordable routine analysis tools. These actors will be able to identify and even elucidate new drugs without the need of an exact mass determination, usually obtained by high resolution mass spectrometry which remains expensive.

CEISAM and SNPS acknowledge Agence Nationale de la Recherche for funding the DEVIL_INSID project, as well as the CEISAM-Corsaire-MetaboHub NMR platform.


Castaing-Cordier, T.; Benavides Restrepo, A.; Dubois, D.; Ladroue, V.; Besacier, F.; Buleté, A.; Charvoz, C.; Goupille, A.; Jacquemin, D.; Giraudeau, P.; Farjon, J. Characterization of new psychoactive substances by integrating benchtop NMR to multi-technique databases. Drug Test Anal. 2022. doi:10.1002/dta.3332

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