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The Persistence of Illicit Drug Smoke Residues and their Recovery from Common Household Surfaces



Julie L. Bitter


Third hand smoke (THS) is the residue left remaining on surfaces during smoking events, and is composed of particles and vapors that form upon heating. The phrase THS is primarily used to describe nicotine and other chemicals from cigarettes, but any residues formed from the smoking of various substances could be classified similarly. There has been an increasing body of research on THS from cigarettes in the last decade, but little has been done in regards to understanding the persistence of particles and vapors from illicit drugs. In this work, small samples of cocaine and methamphetamine were volatilized to produce an illicit drug smoke that was collected onto various surface materials and left exposed to ambient conditions over 672 hours (four weeks). Chemical analyses by electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry of residues on silicon, plastic, laminate, and artificial leather surfaces indicated a rapid decrease in recovery of the parent molecule, with varied formation of decomposition products over the first 168 hours of exposure. Measurable amounts of the parent molecule were still present after 672 hours, exhibiting a strong persistence of these drugs on various household materials. This is important in a forensic science context, as THS residues could provide a viable source of trace evidence previously not utilized.
Drug Testing and Analysis


forensic science, illicit drugs


Bitter, J. (2016), The Persistence of Illicit Drug Smoke Residues and their Recovery from Common Household Surfaces, Drug Testing and Analysis, [online],, (Accessed June 22, 2024)


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Created June 21, 2016, Updated November 10, 2018