NIST provides tools to help forensic crime laboratories validate their analytical methods and ensure accuracy in their results for DNA and biological evidence, fingerprint and pattern evidence, illicit drugs, digital evidence, ballistics, and trace evidence. NIST generates reference materials, reference data, analytical methods, and documentation to support forensic scientist in the laboratory and courtroom. The Organic Chemical Metrology Group of the Chemical Science Division at NIST currently has forensic project areas in Cannabis (hemp and marijuana), Novel Psychoactive Substances, Explosives, and Blood Alcohol Testing.
Since the 1970s, Cannabis (marijuana and hemp) and its psychoactive constituent, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, have been classified as Schedule I controlled substances. Seized evidence is tested by forensic laboratories, who verify the identity of the plant through macro- and microscopic evaluation and the presence of THC through presumptive and confirmatory chemical testing. Drug scheduling has directed the testing approaches, as qualitative confirmation of the presence of THC was sufficient to demonstrate possession of a controlled substance. Currently, marijuana and THC remain on the controlled substances list, although medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and recreational marijuana is legal in 11 states as well as the District of Columbia. The 2018 Farm Bill defined hemp as Cannabis containing less than 0.3 % THC and removed hemp from the controlled substances list. These legal changes have required forensic laboratories throughout the United States the need to implement quantitative analytical methods to distinguish Cannabis seizures as marijuana or hemp. However, the majority of these laboratories have little to no experience in or are accredited to perform quantitative drug analysis. The Chemical Sciences Division at NIST is developing an integrated measurement services program for Cannabis to ensure the quality of routine analysis in forensic laboratories to confidently distinguish between hemp and marijuana in seized Cannabis samples with a three-pronged approach: (1) robust analytical methods for a variety of technologies (GC-MS, LC-UV, LC-MS/MS); (2) Cannabis Reference Materials; and (3) Cannabis Quality Assurance Program (CannaQAP). For additional technical information please refer to the CSD Cannabis website.
Due to the increasing workload in forensic drug laboratories for the identification of NPSs in drug seizures, NIST has been working with the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany – Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) to develop a web-based drug database to facilitate rapid, community-leveraged expert drug identification of newly emerging drugs. The identification of newly appearing NPSs is conducted by forensic laboratories from analytical data evaluations, which are uploaded together with supporting analysis, to the web-based platform supported through a peer-review process. In support of this project, NIST has focused on developing low-field NMR and Raman spectroscopy techniques for NPSs. For additional technical information please refer to the NPS Data Hub website.
Trained dogs are the most frequently deployed detection systems for identification of explosives threats in mobile applications. A key factor in effective deployment of canine detection is the use of appropriate training aids. NIST has a multi-year interagency agreement between the Office of Standards of the Department of Homeland Security for developing measurement tools for and providing compositional data on explosives; investigating the mechanisms of canine olfaction; designing NIST Reference Materials (RMs); and promoting 'best practices' to evaluate the performance of dogs in the detection of trace explosives. For additional technical information please refer to the Canine Detection website.
NIST offers a series of ethanol-water SRMs listed below for alcohol testing. These SRMs are intended to be used in the calibration of instruments and techniques used for the determination of ethanol in aqueous solutions, such as in alcohol in blood and breath. NIST offers these solutions in several legally relevant levels to support alcohol testing for zero tolerance, state levels for driving while intoxicated, and high-level blood alcohol measurements. NIST also offers ethanol-water SRMs at higher ethanol levels that can be used to prepare calibrants.
The Cannabis Quality Assurance Program (CannaQAP) can be viewed by forensic laboratories as a perpetual interlaboratory study mechanism that is akin to a proficiency testing (PT) scheme but without the pass/fail grade. The forensic laboratories participating with CannaQAP will be able to assess their in-house measurements with the goal of improving their analytical methods. All results from CannaQAP studies are peer-reviewed and made publicly available as published NIST Internal Reports, however the identities of individual laboratories are anonymized and known only to them and NIST. Each exercise within this program will be free of charge to participants but will be required to pay shipping cost. For additional information, visit the CannaQAP website at https://qa.nist.gov/cannaqap or contact the CannaQAP Team at cannabis [at] nist.gov.
Forensics@NIST will take place virtually on November 5th and will consist of a morning session will be webcasted to include statistical methods in forensic science. The afternoon will be dedicated to breakout sessions covering drugs/toxins, firearms and tool marks, digital and multimedia, forensic genetics, and trace.
This half-day event on November 6th will consist of multiple presentations and 30 – 60 min roundtable discussion. Presentations will focus on the integrated measurement services program for Cannabis to ensure the quality of routine analysis in forensic laboratories. The tools developed at NIST will ensure the quality assurance of routine analysis for confiscated Cannabis (hemp and marijuana) samples and confirm the confidence in sample type differentiation. This workshop will include presentations from NIST researchers and outside collaborators from County and State laboratories in the United States. NIST presenters will provide an overview of the newly developed sample preparation protocols, qualitative colorimetric test, quantitative analytical methods (i.e. LC-UV, LC-MS/MS, GC-MS, and portable IR detectors), interlaboratory study results, and updates on a Cannabis RMs. NIST collaborators will present on their in-house Cannabis protocols, analytical methods, validation schemes, and involvements with NIST through interlaboratory studies. The workshop will include a round table discussion for the presenters to answer questions and exchange ideas with the audience.
This workshop aims to provide forensic practitioners, laboratory managers, and legal personnel with the information to understand what DART-MS is, identify whether it would be beneficial for their laboratories, and learn about how other laboratories are utilizing the technique. Topics that will be covered in the workshop include fundamentals of Dart-MS, current drug applications, validation strategies, practical and legal implementation, novel sampling protocols, and casework approaches. Presenters will include researchers from NIST and NIJ, chemist from state an federal laboratories who are active users of the technology, and instrument manufacturers.
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