Highly Accurate Portable Device for Instant Detection of Illegal Drugs

Researchers at the University of Bath have developed an ultraportable, cost-effective device that has proven highly effective in detecting synthetic cannabinoids (SCs), such as “Spice” or K2. This pocket-sized device, designed to detect SCs commonly used in UK prisons and homeless communities, is expected to receive clearance for nationwide deployment within a few months.

SCs are a class of psychoactive substances associated with severe side effects, including psychosis, strokes, and seizures, and can be fatal. The researchers believe that their innovative device can help combat the smuggling of SCs into prisons and reduce the harmful impact of these highly addictive drugs. They are also confident that with further enhancements, the device can detect various types of synthetic drugs.

Professor Christopher Pudney, who led the research at the Department of Life Sciences at Bath, described the device as groundbreaking, highlighting its battery-operated, ultra-portable, and low-cost nature, which provides instant and easily interpretable results.

Detecting Spice is challenging with existing technology because it is often concealed within physical materials like paper, fabric, and even vape liquid. However, this new device has the potential to revolutionize SC detection and is detailed in the journal Analytical Chemistry, published by the American Chemical Society.

The researchers anticipate mass production of the device by autumn and are seeking a company capable of manufacturing and distributing it to prisons, probation services, homeless shelters, and relevant charities, initially in the UK and eventually overseas. Unlike most detection technologies that struggle with complex materials, this device can detect drugs on a wide range of materials with high accuracy (95%), even in vape liquid and vape pen caps.

Professor Pudney stated that they envision the device reducing SC usage in vulnerable communities, thereby improving addiction recovery prospects and reducing serious health consequences.

The device operates by identifying the fluorescent properties of the synthetic cannabinoid molecule. When it encounters a material suspected of containing an SC, it identifies the material and tests for the drug’s presence. An LED ring lights up as an alarm, with the brightness indicating the SC concentration.

The research team is now working on modifying the device to detect more complex compounds like benzodiazepines and opioids, aiming to achieve this objective within the next two years.

Spice, originally designed to mimic natural cannabis, is much more potent and unpredictable, posing greater risks to users. Recently, Spice has been added to vape liquids, endangering unsuspecting smokers. However, the new device can easily detect Spice, even when it’s concealed in vape liquid, providing an important tool for public safety.

“We can spot Spice easily simply by opening a vape and testing the mouth filter,” Professor Pudney explained.

Source: University of Bath

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