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Headspace sampling and detection of cocaine, MDMA, and marijuana via volatile markers in the presence of potential interferences by solid phase microextraction–ion mobility spectrometry (SPME-IMS)


The successful air sampling and detection of cocaine, methylenedioxymethylamphetamine (MDMA), and marijuana using SPME-IMS achieved by targeting their volatile markers (methyl benzoate, piperonal, and terpenes, respectively) is presented. Conventional methods of direct air sampling for drugs are ineffective because the parent compounds of these drugs have very low vapor pressures, making them unavailable for headspace sampling. Instead of targeting the parent drugs, IMS was set at the optimal operating conditions (determined in previous work) in order to detect their volatile chemical markers. SPME is an effective and rapid air sampling technique for the preconcentration of analytes which is especially useful in confined spaces such as cargo containers, where the volatile marker compounds of drugs can be found in sufficient concentrations. By sampling the air using a 100 μm polydimethyl siloxane (PDMS) SPME fiber for as little as one minute, enough mass of the targeted volatile markers in the headspace of a quart-sized metal paint can (gallon, ∼1101 cm3) which contained sub-gram quantities of the drug samples was recovered for IMS detection. Additionally, several potentially interfering compounds found in goods commonly shipped in cargo containers were tested individually as well as in mixtures with the drugs. No peak interferences were observed for MDMA or marijuana, and minimal peak interferences were found for cocaine.

a Overlay spectrum of a five-minute SPME headspace extraction of cocaine HCl, methyl benzoate standard and a blank fiber. b Overlay spectrum of a 30-minute SPME headspace extraction of MDMA tablets, piperonal standard and a blank fiber. c Overlay spectrum of a ten-minute SPME headspace extraction of marijuana and a blank fiber

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The authors would like to acknowledge the Miami-Dade Police Department, Crime Laboratory Bureau for permitting the SPME sampling of the drugs to be conducted in their laboratory. GE Securities is acknowledged for the donation of the Itemiser 2 used in this research. Some portions of this work were possible through funding from the National Institute of Justice (2006-DN-BX-K027), and Sensor Concepts and Applications. Funding for Hanh Lai is acknowledged from the Kauffman Doctoral Student Fellowship by The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Eugenio Pino Entrepreneurship Center at Florida International University.

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Correspondence to José R. Almirall.

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Lai, H., Corbin, I. & Almirall, J.R. Headspace sampling and detection of cocaine, MDMA, and marijuana via volatile markers in the presence of potential interferences by solid phase microextraction–ion mobility spectrometry (SPME-IMS). Anal Bioanal Chem 392, 105–113 (2008).

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