Several classes of synthetic drugs, including cannabinoids, cathinones and phenethylamines, are currently exhibiting a surge in variety and popularity, both in terms of production and recreational usage. This is in large part due to the ambiguities inherent in the existing legislation, which render the legality of structural analogues of the more familiar recreational drugs uncertain, and leave the door open for unscrupulous importers to make these drugs available on the Australian market. There is therefore an urgent need for rapid screening methods to be available to frontier bodies such as the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Federal Police for the classification and, ultimately, identification of these synthetic drugs.
While the analysis of such compounds by 1H, 13C and 19F NMR spectroscopy is routine, recent work has demonstrated the practicality of indirectly-detected 15N experiments, viz. 1H-15N HSQC and HMBC experiments, to resolve the nitrogen environments. These combined techniques appear to serve as excellent indicators of the particular class of synthetic drug that a suspect compound belongs to, and show promise as a rapid first step in the identification of these quickly evolving compounds.