Cannabinoids, synthetic cannabinoids and cannabis: What can the FLIR Griffin G510 detect?

7th July 2020

Using the FLIR Griffin G510 GC/MS system to detect naturally-occuring and synthetic cannabinoids 

What is the difference between Cannabinoids, Synthetic cannabinoids and Cannabis?

Cannabinoids are prevalent throughout the world. Some occur naturally, including Tetrahydrocannibinol (THC), the main psychoactive substance in Cannabis, and Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive substance which is readily available in health food and homeopathic remedy shops, used commonly for pain relief and reducing anxiety and depression.

Synthetic cannabinoids (non-naturally occurring) have grown in prevalence in previous years. Spice, a colloquial term that synthetic cannabinoids are commonly sold under, is a growing problem in the UK. The problem is especially prevalent in prisons, with widespread news reports of spice being smuggled into prisons, prison officers being hospitalized after inhaling fumes from prisoners smoking spice and, most importantly, reports of inmates dying after using spice. Additionally, vaping liquids containing spice, mis-sold as THC containing liquids, have also been in the news in recent months.

Cannabis has also featured heavily in the news recently, with many recent reports regarding the legalization of cannabis in certain countries, reports of regular cannabis use damaging heart function and the regular debate about the use of medical cannabis. Whilst cannabis has been legalized in Canada and a number of states in the USA, in the UK, possession of cannabis is illegal (non-medical use) and it is a Class B controlled drug.

Cannabis and spice: notoriously hard to chemically analyze and identify 

Regarding prosecution for cannabis offences, Controlled Drugs Liaison Officers (CDLOs) are considered Expert Witnesses for Cannabis. Despite this, having indisputable, chemical analysis to support the case and submit as evidence in court is highly beneficial for court proceedings. Cannabis is notoriously hard to chemically analyze and identify for CDLOs – Due to the biological materials present in the plant, traditional techniques for drug ID, such as Raman and Infra-Red Spectroscopy, cannot successfully detect and analyze THC, Cannabinol or CBD.

As well as cannabis, Spice is not easily identified. When using Raman and Infra-Red Spectroscopy to effectively identify synthetic cannabinoids, the libraries used for identification have to be updated regularly due to new Spice compounds continually being introduced to the black market. In order to detect and identify the cannabinoids in question, more sophisticated analysis would be required, such as Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS).

Using Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry to analyze chemical hazards

The FLIR Griffin G510 is a portable GC/MS system capable of chemical identification, built for first responders to analyze chemical hazards in the field. Just like a benchtop GC/MS, the G510 has a standard split/splitless liquid sample injector and is simple to use with a 9-inch touchscreen and intuitive interface. Following testing by independent bodies, the FLIR Griffin G510 has been proven to detect and identify a range of controlled drugs, either alone or in mixtures, even at low concentrations. Regarding Cannabis and Spice, the G510 is capable of detecting and identifying both naturally-occurring and synthetic cannabinoids.

In a real life example, the solid residue in a Cannabis grinder found in the local area was analyzed using the FLIR Griffin G510. Using ethanol (alcohol), cannabinoids present in the residue were extracted for chemical analysis.

Following an injection of the extracted sample into the G510’s split/splitless liquid sample injector port, both THC and Cannibinol were shown to be present in the sample. Notably, only two peaks (two substances) were detected, two cannabinoids. All other plant-based material which usually causes issues for Raman and Infra-Red spectral analysis was not observed.

The G510 has also been proven to detect and identify lesser known synthetic cannabinoids, such as 2-Fluoro-ADB.