Analysis of synthetic phenethylamine street drugs using direct sample analysis coupled to accurate mass time of flight mass spectrometry

Maura K. McGonigal, Joshua A. Wilhide, Philip B. Smith, Noelle M. Elliott, Frank L. Dorman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Serious health complications and fatal overdoses have brought phenethylamine, otherwise known as 2C, drug abuse to the public's attention. These compounds are 2C-X series analogs of mescaline. The name “2C” results from the two carbons in the ethyl chain. The substituents on these emerging drugs are constantly changed in order to avoid listing as controlled substances. These synthetic drugs are marketed as having affects similar to LSD and MDMA and are typically consumed sublingually via blotter paper. Twenty-six commercially available standards were analyzed using a direct sample analysis technique coupled to accurate mass time of flight mass spectrometry. Direct sample analysis is an ambient ionization technique employing direct charge transfer from nitrogen reagent gas resulting in ionization and in-source collision induced dissociation. Mass spectral analysis was used to determine the fragmentation patterns of the 2C compounds. While the mass spectral data for the compounds are similar in fragmentation, they also display differences that allow the analyst to distinguish which compound is present. The fragmentation patterns, high-resolution mass spectral data, and isotope ratios are used to qualitatively identify two blotter paper street samples that were extracted together. As these drugs are emerging substances of abuse, there are no generally accepted protocols for this analysis. Additionally, presumptive, or screening, tests have not been widely developed for these materials. Direct sample analysis allows for a quick screening of seized compounds resulting in a preliminary identification, which can then be analyzed and confirmed using other analytical techniques.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-89
Number of pages7
JournalForensic science international
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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