Forensic Toxicology

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 376–388 | Cite as

Mass spectrometric identification and structural analysis of the third-generation synthetic cannabinoids on the UK market since the 2013 legislative ban

  • Lubertus Bijlsma
  • María Ibáñez
  • Bram Miserez
  • Solomon Ting Fung Ma
  • Trevor Shine
  • John Ramsey
  • Félix Hernández
Original Article


To examine the impact of the second legal ban on synthetic cannabinoids (SCs) in the UK in February 2013, we surveyed the UK legal high market just before and after the change in legislation, looking for new SCs. The technique gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS) in electron ionization mode, most widely applied for analysis, was found to be insufficient for the identification of several SCs, and therefore liquid chromatography–high-resolution mass spectrometry (LC–HR-MS) was required. LC–HR-MS(/MS) measurements of the protonated molecules and product ions allowed the detection of up to 27 compounds as the third-generation SCs in the samples analysed as part of this study, including two unknown compounds that were tentatively identified as F2201 and dealkyl-SDB-006. Our results showed that banned compounds were removed from the market on the day when the ban was in place, and were replaced by other SCs immediately after the ban. In only one occasion, a banned compound (UR-144) was detected after the date when the new legislation came into place. It is also noteworthy that regardless of the change in legislation, new compounds continued to enter the market. Product ion spectral information on the third-generation SCs at different collision energies given in this paper will be of help for forensic and clinical laboratories and will facilitate the detection and identification of new SCs by laboratories of control. This information is very valuable for law enforcement and policymakers and will be of help in future prevention programs.


Synthetic cannabinoids Legislation Third-generation SCs LC–QTOF-MS/MS F2201 Dealkyl-SDB-006 



Several products for this study were provided by police forces and drug workers. Samples from Essex Police, Kent Police and Lifeline Project Ltd. were used for this work and they are gratefully acknowledged. Bram Miserez forms a part of the EU-International Training Network SEWPROF (Marie Curie-FP7-PEOPLE grant #317205), and the financial support of the European Union is gratefully acknowledged. Lubertus Bijlsma acknowledges NPS-Euronet (HOME/2014/JDRUG/AG/DRUG/7086), co-funded by the European Union, for his post-doctoral fellowship. This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. The authors acknowledge the financial support from Generalitat Valenciana (Group of Excellence Prometeo II 2014/023) and from the Ministerio Español de Economía y Competitividad (Project CTQ2015-65603-P).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

11419_2017_368_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (945 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 945 kb)


  1. 1.
    Uchiyama N, Kikura-Hanajiri R, Kawahara N, Haishima Y, Goda Y (2009) Identification of a cannabinoid analog as a new type of designer drug in a herbal product. Chem Pharm Bull 57:439–441CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Auwärter V, Dresen S, Weinmann W, Müller M, Pütz M, Ferreirós N (2009) ’Spice’ and other herbal blends: harmless incense or cannabinoid designer drugs? J Mass Spectrom 44:832–837CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Uchiyama N, Kikura-Hanajiri R, Kawahara N, Goda Y (2009) Identification of a cannabimimetic indole as a designer drug in a herbal product. Forensic Toxicol 27:61–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Tsujikawa K, Yamamuro T, Kuwayama K, Kanamori T, Iwata YT, Inoue H (2014) Thermal degradation of a new synthetic cannabinoid QUPIC during analysis by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. Forensic Toxicol 32:201–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Uchiyama N, Kikura-Hanajiri R, Goda Y (2010) Chemical analysis of synthetic cannabinoids as designer drugs in herbal products. Forensic Sci Int 198:31–38CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Shanks KG, Dahn T, Behonick G, Terrell A (2012) Analysis of first and second generation legal highs for synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic stimulants by ultra-performance liquid chromatography and time of flight mass spectrometry. J Anal Toxicol 36:360–371CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibáñez M, Bijlsma L, van Nuijs ALN, Sancho JV, Haro G, Covaci A, Hernández F (2013) Quadrupole-time-of-flight mass spectrometry screening for synthetic cannabinoids in herbal blends. J Mass Spectrom 48:685–694CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Penn HJ, Langman LJ, Unold D, Shields J, Nichols JH (2011) Detection of synthetic cannabinoids in herbal incense products. Clin Biochem 44:1163–1165CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Grabenauer M, Krol WL, Wiley JL, Thomas BF (2012) Analysis of synthetic cannabinoids using high-resolution mass spectrometry and mass defect filtering: implications for nontargeted screening of designer drugs. Anal Chem 84:5574–5581CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Hudson S, Ramsey J, King L, Timbers S, Maynard S, Dargan PI, Wood DM (2010) Use of high-resolution accurate mass spectrometry to detect reported and previously unreported cannabinomimetics in “herbal high” products. J Anal Toxicol 34:252–260CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Gottardo R, Chiarini A, Dal Prà I, Seri C, Rimondo C, Serpelloni G, Armato U, Tagliaro F (2012) Direct screening of herbal blends for new synthetic cannabinoids by MALDI-TOF MS. J Mass Spectrom 47:141–146CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2015) EMCDDA presents latest update on ‘new drugs’ from EU Early Warning System. Accessed April 2017
  13. 13.
    The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2013, 2013 No. 239. Dangerous Drugs. Accessed April 2017
  14. 14.
    Kikura-Hanajiri R, Uchijama N, Kawamura M, Goda Y (2014) Changes in the prevalence of new psychoactive substances before and after the introduction of generic scheduling of synthetic cannabinoids in Japan. Drug Test Anal 6:832–839CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Japanese Association of Forensic Toxicology and Springer Japan 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lubertus Bijlsma
    • 1
  • María Ibáñez
    • 1
  • Bram Miserez
    • 2
  • Solomon Ting Fung Ma
    • 2
  • Trevor Shine
    • 2
  • John Ramsey
    • 2
  • Félix Hernández
    • 1
  1. 1.Research Institute for Pesticides and WaterUniversity Jaume ICastellónSpain
  2. 2.TICTAC Communications Ltd.St George’s University of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations