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Rapid tentative identification of synthetic cathinones in seized products taking advantage of the full capabilities of triple quadrupole analyzer

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In this work, a new approach for synthetic cathinone identification in seized products, consisting of a rapid pseudo-target screening using liquid chromatography coupled to low-resolution tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS), is proposed based on typical common product ions and neutral losses observed for this drug class.


The term “pseudo-target” screening indicates that although a pre-defined target compound list is not used, the search is limited to synthetic cathinones with expected common moieties. A total of 22 neutral losses and 36 common product ions were monitored and used for cathinone identification.


In order to test the approach, 14 blind samples were analyzed and the results compared with high-resolution mass spectrometry data. From the data obtained, the different moieties of the cathinones (and therefore their structures) could be derived, allowing their tentative identification.


This methodology will be useful for the first and rapid synthetic cathinone detection in laboratories that have low-resolution MS/MS instrumentation.

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The authors acknowledge financial support from Generalitat Valenciana (Group of Excellence Prometeo II 2014/023) and from the Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad in Spain (Project: CTQ2015-65603-P). The authors also acknowledge NPS-Euronet (HOME/2014/JDRUG/AG/DRUG/7086), co-funded by the European Union. 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. D. Fabregat-Safont acknowledges Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte in Spain for his predoctoral grant (Grant FPU15/02033). Authors also acknowledge Energy Control for providing the research chemical samples used for testing the pseudo-target screening strategy.

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Correspondence to María Ibáñez.

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Fabregat-Safont, D., Sancho, J.V., Hernández, F. et al. Rapid tentative identification of synthetic cathinones in seized products taking advantage of the full capabilities of triple quadrupole analyzer. Forensic Toxicol 37, 34–44 (2019).

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