Tracking Cannabinoids Abuse

A research team from Singapore has developed a urine test to detect the abuse of synthetic cannabinoids in the country.

AsianScientist (Jan. 18, 2023) – Illegal use of synthetic cannabinoids is increasingly becoming a public health issue in East and Southeast Asia, leading to seizures and death in some cases. Manufacturers of these cannabinoids keep tweaking the chemical structure of the compound to evade government regulations. 

In order to stamp out these so-called novel cannabinoids from being abused, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Health Science Authority of Singapore (HSA) joined forces to identify urinary markers for an emerging class of new synthetic cannabinoids known as OXIZID. The team’s findings were published in Clinical Chemistry

“[We] initiated [our] collaboration to investigate the urinary biomarkers of prevailing synthetic cannabinoids with no published metabolism information in 2019 prior to the start of the pandemic,” Eric Chan, lead author of the study and the head of Metabolic Profiling Research Group in NUS Department of Pharmacy, told Asian Scientist Magazine. 

Drawing on their previous research, the team developed a two-pronged strategy comprising an assembly of in vitro metabolism assay and in vivo preliminary screening of authentic urine samples to expedite the discovery of the urinary markers, Eric explained. 

For the metabolism assay, the team incubated four different OXIZIDs, namely BZO-HEXOXIZID, BZO-POXIZID, 5F-BZO-POXIZID, and BZO-CHMOXIZID with specific human liver enzymes to identify the breakdown products or metabolites. The team found around 42 to 51 metabolites for each OXIZID where 12 to 16 among them were the major metabolites.

Once the metabolism profile of OXIZID had been established, the researchers started to find which metabolites were present and excreted in human urine. The researchers collected urine samples from anonymous OXIZID users and compared the metabolites recorded with the results of their human liver enzyme experiment.

The results from the urine samples and cell culture experiment were consistent. Among four OXIZIDs, only BZO-CHMOXIZID was absent in all urine samples. For the other three OXIZIDs, the metabolites were detected in the samples in greater abundance compared to the parent drugs. This finding will aid the routine screening efforts of the regulatory agencies to detect OXIZID consumption. 

The research team is on a constant look out for emerging synthetic cannabinoids that are being detected in Singapore and worldwide.

“The laboratory will prioritize those new synthetic cannabinoids that have shown increasing abuse trends in the local drug scene for the metabolism study, [and] we shall apply our strategy to discover urinary biomarkers for timely detection,” Eric said.

He added that the same approach can be applied to find cannabis abuse in food products. “The implications are complex and [we are] actively pursuing some of these questions now,” he said. “The collaboration between NUS and HSA that culminated in the development of innovative solutions to solve real-world problems is yet another testimony of the importance of interdisciplinary research,” Eric said.

Source: National University of Singapore; Image: Unsplash

The article can be found at Identification of Optimal Urinary Biomarkers of Synthetic Cannabinoids BZO-HEXOXIZID, BZO-POXIZID, 5F-BZO-POXIZID, and BZO-CHMOXIZID for Illicit Abuse Monitoring

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Septia Nurmala is a recent graduate from Pharmacy Professional Degree program, Universitas Indonesia where she focused on how medicines are regulated. As a writer who covers just about anything—from molecular scale to population level, she hopes to showcase the human narratives driving scientific discoveries and increase accessibility.

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