Synthetic drugs such as Spice and Monkey Dust are amongst the most difficult substances to detect in the field of drug testing, due to their ever-evolving compounds. This is problematic for those working in child protection, since these substances can often go undetected in hair sampling. Despite extensive public funding, the testing itself can be less than comprehensive, and even, completely redundant. Here – we explore the solutions available to help minimise wasted public funding and better safeguard vulnerable children.

Spice is widely used across the UK and it’s compounds are designed to mimic the psychoactive effects of the active ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which produces the desired ‘high’ for the user. Spice is a ‘street’ name for a drug containing one or more synthetic cannabinoids. Since the toxicity of these new compounds is not well understood and their use has resulted in numerous fatalities, Spice use can increase the risk profile of a child with parents using Spice.

Synthetic cannabinoids are cheap and readily available. As well as a loss a consciousness for the user, they can cause tachycardia, hypertension, hallucinations, nausea and vomiting, seizures, memory changes, respiratory depression, acute anxiety, psychosis and death. The potency of these chemicals outstrips that of most recreational drugs. An active dose of street heroin can be from around 50-150mg and a typical line of cocaine might contain 50-100mg, but most variants of spice are active at just 1mg or less, an amount barely visible to the naked eye, making accurate dosing impossible. Spice can be up to 800 times more potent than cannabis and can lack the calming effect of CBD/CBN found in cannabis.

Synthetic cannabinoids are continually evolving, with new and emerging versions introduced regularly, with over 400 synthetic cannabinoids introduced in the past 15 years.  Surprisingly, the majority of those introduced just 5 years ago are no longer in circulation, and this constantly changing landscape represents a significant challenge to Toxicology laboratories.  Many laboratories are still screening for synthetic cannabinoids that have not been seen in the UK for 10 years or more.

In certain parts of the country, other synthetics including ‘Monkey Dust’ have caused public health concerns for many  years. As with other synthetic drugs, it is constantly changing, and is unlikely to be detected in standard drug testing.

Monkey Dust is a psychoactive substance with effects similar to PCP – such as high body temperature, paranoia, agitation and hallucination; it can also make users impervious to pain. Frequently users have no recollection of their behaviour while under the influence of the drug. Monkey Dust is believed to cause extremely violent and zombie like behaviour.

So, how can synthetics testing be more reliable – and therefore help safeguard children? The Forensic Testing Service work with various partners including the Manchester Metropolitan University and Manchester Metropolitan Police on a Drug Testing and Knowledge Exchange project known as MANDRAKE.

MANDRAKE – is a licenced scientific resource, working in partnership with key stakeholders to facilitate rapid, robust and cost-effective chemical analysis for both harm- reduction and intelligence sharing. This project involves the testing and research on emergent and new drug trends closely monitoring substances that are actively used on the ‘street’. This enables FTS to stay keep in touch with the most up to date intelligence.

FTS has a programme of continual development to address this challenge and are the only laboratory working in this sector that can offer reliable detection of these compounds as they change and re-appear on the street. They are the only laboratory that have the capability to detect many of the most abused synthetic compounds and their associated metabolites.

Using the Forensic Testing Service synthetics panel, you can be assured that relevant and current compounds will be detected, ensuring drug misuse is not missed and children are not exposed to unnecessary risk. Importantly, this eliminates wasted public funding currently spent on testing for outdated synthetics that just won’t be detected.

If you would like further information on synthetics testing, including Spice and Monkey Dust, please contact the FTS Customer Support Team on 01924 480272.