Library Dissertation Showcase

Synthetic cannabinoids and electronic cigarettes: an investigation into the extent of breakdown and pyrolysis in vaped cannabinoid smoke

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2019

E-cigarettes are versatile interfaces which allow any soluble substance to be smoked. They have seen a large increase in popularity in the developed world and have transcended their initial purpose as aids for the cessation of smoking. A growing trend is the adaptation of e-cigarettes for use with recreational substances. The most popular drugs to be vaped were cannabis and cannabinoids, which now exist as commercial products in countries where marijuana is legal. Given its recent inception into everyday life, there currently exists little research into e-cigarette use and its potential long and short-term effects, and given the variety available, there also exists little pharmacological understanding on the effect of synthetic cannabinoids. This study aimed to analyse the smoke produced by an e-cigarette when used to aerosolise an e-liquid containing synthetic cannabinoids. A simplistic and inexpensive method was designed to create the e-liquids in propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine. Smoke was trapped by charcoal and silica gel, then analysed via GC-MS. Four cannabinoid samples were used, containing three different species; AKB-48, SF-AKB-48 and SF-PB-22. All three cannabinoids demonstrated different levels of breakdown, however also displayed consistent patterns in the way they pyrolyzed, namely via cleavage of the alkylamino bond. This suggests some predictability in the breakdown of synthetic cannabinoids and may have application in detection mechanisms of cannabinoid use. Polyethylene glycol was also studied as a solvent and was found to protect full drug molecules, causing less breakdown. A second device designed for dry herb vaping was also studied and showed high amounts of pyrolysis, exhibiting already characterised products and others that were previously unseen. This research has provided a good foundation for future research, however there still exists a large library of different species to study and a multitude of unknowns that need further research to understand.

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