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A Framework for the Development of a Targeted Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) Method for the Analysis of Synthetic Cannabinoids



Edward Sisco, Amber Burns, Arun Moorthy


With the increased presence of novel psychoactive substances (NPSs) in casework, seized drug analysis has become more complex and challenging. To assist in addressing these challenges, a suite of targeted gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) methods for different classes of seized drugs are currently being developed. This work describes the platform used to develop these targeted methods and presents the results for the development of a synthetic cannabinoid method. To create the method, a range of GC-MS parameters, including column stationary phase, temperature and flow programs, mass spectrometer source temperature, and tune parameters, among others, were evaluated through a series of studies using a seven-component test solution. Once established, the method was evaluated against a larger suite of 47 cannabinoids (synthetic and natural) to determine the ability of the method to differentiate compounds. The method was compared to a general confirmatory method used at the Maryland State Police-Forensic Science Laboratory and a set of eight representative case samples were also analyzed on the method to evaluate feasibility and sensitivity. The method provided major improvements in chromatographic resolution, reduced the analysis time by 1.33 min (compared to the general method), and, using the most sensitive settings, was up to an order of magnitude more sensitive. While not all cannabinoids were completely separated, based on a 2 % difference in retention time, those that were not sufficiently separated had distinguishable mass spectra, as established using a newly developed min-max test. Development of this, and other, drug class specific methods is part of a larger effort to create a workflow tailored to the challenges of modern drug chemistry.
Journal of Forensic Sciences


Cannabinoids, GC-MS, Seized Drug, NPS, Method Development


Sisco, E. , Burns, A. and Moorthy, A. (2021), A Framework for the Development of a Targeted Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) Method for the Analysis of Synthetic Cannabinoids, Journal of Forensic Sciences, [online],, (Accessed May 22, 2024)


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Created October 8, 2021, Updated October 14, 2021