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posted on 08.02.2021, 04:10 by Giampietro Frison, Flavio Zancanaro, Samuela Frasson, Laura Quadretti, Michele Agnati, Francesca Vlassich, Giuseppe Gagliardi, Tania Maria Grazia Salerno, Paola Donato, Luigi Mondello

Among the phencyclidine (PCP) and synthetic cathinone analogs present on the street market, 3-methoxyphencyclidine (3-MeO-PCP) is one of the most popular dissociative hallucinogen drugs, while 3-methylmethcathinone (3-MMC) is a commonly encountered psychostimulant. Numerous 3-MeO-PCP- and 3-MMC-related intoxication cases have been reported worldwide. Identification of the positional isomers of MeO-PCP and MMC families are particularly challenging for clinical and forensic laboratories; this is mostly due to their difficult chromatographic separation (particularly when using liquid chromatography–LC) and similar mass spectrometric behaviors. 3-MeO-PCP and 3-MMC were identified in two powders, detained by two subjects and seized by the police, by different analytical techniques, including liquid chromatography-high-resolution accurate-mass Orbitrap mass spectrometry (LC-HRAM-Orbitrap-MS), and solid deposition gas chromatography-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (sd-GC-FTIR). LC-HRAM-Orbitrap-MS allowed us to assign the elemental formulae C18H27NO (MeO-PCP) and C11H15NO (MMC) through accurate mass measurement of the two MH+ ions, and the comparison of experimental and calculated MH+ isotopic patterns. However, MH+ collision-induced product ions spectra were not conclusive in discriminating between the positional isomers [(3-MeO-PCP vs. 4-MeO-PCP) and (3-MMC vs. 4-MMC and 2-MMC)]. Likewise, sd-GC-FTIR easily allowed us to differentiate between the MeO-PCP and MMC positional isomers unambiguously, confirming the presence of 3-MeO-PCP and 3-MMC, due to the high-quality match factor of the experimental FTIR spectra against the target FTIR spectra of MeO-PCP and MMC isomers in a dedicated library. 3-MeO-PCP (in contrast to 3-MMC) was also detected in blood and urine samples of both subjects and analyzed in the context of routine forensic casework by LC-HRAM-Orbitrap-MS following a simple deproteinization step. In addition, this untargeted approach allowed us to detect dozens of phase I and phase II 3-MeO-PCP metabolites in all biological specimens. Analysis of the extracted samples by sd-GC-FTIR revealed the presence of 3-MeO-PCP, thus confirming the intake of such specific methoxy-PCP isomer in both cases. These results highlight the effectiveness of LC-HRAM-Orbitrap-MS and sd-GC-FTIR data in attaining full structural characterization of the psychoactive drugs, even in absence of reference standards, in both non-biological and biological specimens.

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