• Chromatography Investigates SCRA Use

Chromatography Investigates SCRA Use

Apr 23 2020

Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists (SCRAs) are a large group of drugs that bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system and brain. They have been around since the early part of the 21st Century and illegal for the last few years. But the scale of use of SCRAs is largely unknown - with most SCRA use attributed to homeless people and prisoners. But research recently published suggests SCRA use is low compared to other illicit drugs. Find out a little more about SCRAs and how chromatography can detect them in samples.

Spice and cannabis - not the same high

Cannabis is probably the most used illegal drug. Many people use it recreationally, and increasingly for medical purposes, deriving pleasure and relatively low risk of harm. Cannabis occurs naturally in the environment and has been used for thousands of years in various cultural and medicinal settings. Synthetic forms of cannabis are relatively new. Legal highs have been around and used for many years until most were prohibited in 2016. One of these legal highs is synthetic cannabis which goes by the name of Spice.

Spice is a form of synthetic cannabis, substances that go under the acronym SCRAs - synthetic cannabis receptor agonists. However, not all spice products are actually SCRAs. SCRAs act on the cannabis receptors in the brain, which means they have a similar effect and users feel like they are getting stoned. They are called Agonists because they are synthetic chemicals - and actually have nothing to do with cannabis.

But does it matter if the drugs get you stoned that they have nothing to do with cannabis? Well, the problem is they don’t get you stoned like cannabis. Cannabis has many different substances that affect the brain - THC and other cannabinoids. SCRAs cause the brain to react differently as they bind to the cannabis receptors in a different way and we don’t know what affect that might have.

Chromatography analyses spice and cannabis

When researchers analyse blood and urine samples from people using SCRAs they find a multitude of parent compounds and metabolites. One of the best ways to identify and quantify them is to use liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) systems. The use of chromatography to analyse cannabis and its metabolites is discussed in the article, Development of a Cannabinoid Analysis within a Regulated Environment.

The research evidence suggests that SCRAs can have neurological, cardiovascular and other effects including injuries to the kidneys. One of the problems with using SCRAs compared to cannabis though, is that the formulations are always changing as new manufacturers and suppliers enter the market. With cannabis plant, you get what Mother Nature supplies.

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