Faculty Mentor

Kelly M. Elkins


Synthetic cathinone family compounds or designer drugs are the major naturally-occurring psychostimulant and hallucinogenic designer drugs that are used illegally in the United States and several other countries for their cocaine, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), and amphetamine-like effects. Since 2009, forensic labs have identified synthetic cathinones in an increasing percentage of cases. One of the problems crime labs face when analyzing submitted drug evidence is that the samples are often mixtures and can contain one or more of several cutting agents. In this work, we demonstrate the utility of high-field 1H-NMR as a screening tool to detect cathinones in the presence adulterants or “cutting agents”. We collected 1H- and 13C-NMR spectra of three structurally distinct cathinones: alpha-piperidinobutiophenone, alpha-pyrrolidinopentiothiophenone, and pentylone. The spectra were collected with the pure cathinones and in the presence of a cutting agent, commercial powdered sugar (sucrose), and in two solvents. Without knowing the mixture components, it is impossible to select a solvent that will (ideally) only dissolve the drug of interest for interpretation. High-field NMR can be used to provide a spectral assignment and structure determination of a sample of an unknown cathinone and spectral signatures for screening, even when the cutting agent is also very soluble as observed when the solvent was D2O. The NMR spectra provide evidence that rapidly acquired 1H spectra can be used to strongly indicate the identity of cathinones in a sample if they are present in a library.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge the National Science Foundation (TUES DUE 1245666 and MRI DUE 0923051) for the support of this research and 300 MHz Bruker Avance NMR and 400SS MHz JEOL NMR instruments that made this study possible. The authors acknowledge Tim Brunker for his technical assistance and advice.