Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Drugs and Toxicology

pink, turquoise, yellow, & purple fentanyl pills

Rainbow Fentanyl

Credit: DEA

Goal: To both develop and facilitate the implementation of scientifically valid, robust measurement tools for the chemical characterization of drug evidence.


Why is NIST Involved in Drugs and Toxicology?

  • The CDC National Center for Health Statistics reported 105452 overdose deaths in 2022, of which 79,770 were reported opioid-involved drug overdose deaths
  • Drug cases are the most frequently requested type of analysis in forensic laboratories, with 575,000 drug reports in the first half of 2022, according to the NFLIS-DRUG midyear report
  • The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 legalized hemp with less than 0.3% THC content


What is NIST doing? 

Opioids and Emerging Threats – Tools and Resources  

  • Developing and validating new analytical tools for rapid analysis of seized drugs for accurate identification and decrease case backlogs
  • Creating and curating mass spectra libraries and data interpretation tools to assist in the identification of new and emerging drugs
  • Working with public health and public safety officials to create a metrology framework for near-real-time drug surveillance

Forensic Cannabis Analysis – An Integrated Measurement Service

  • Developing an objective image analysis method for interpreting colorimetric test results
  • Developing fundamental measurements to support breath-based detection of Cannabis Use  
  • Administering the Cannabis Quality Assurance Program (CannaQAP) to improve the comparability of the analytical measurements of cannabis and cannabis-derived products in forensic testing laboratories
  • Developing of fit-for-purpose Cannabis analytical methods
  • Developing of community-suitable Hemp Reference Material ​

Associated Links


A white van with its sliding door open, parked in a lot, with mountains in the background. Decals on the side refer to scientific studies.
Credit: Courtesy of Cinnamon Bidwell, University of Colorado Boulder

Researchers Analyze THC in Breath of Cannabis Smokers

Distinguishing between recent use and past use remains an elusive goal.



A person in a baseball cap and face mask stands at a computer surrounded by scientific equipment, including a curving black plastic tube.
Credit: B. Hayes/NIST

Animal Tranquilizer Floods Illicit Drug Markets in Maryland

An animal tranquilizer has flooded the illicit drug market in Maryland, according to a study by NIST and the Maryland Department of Health. When injected, the tranquilizer, xylazine, causes wounds at the injection site, in some cases so severe that people need to have their arms or legs amputated.


Maryam Abdur-Rahman

Forensic Science Internships at NIST – A look at Cannabis Compounds

Maryam Abdur-Rahman is a Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) intern conducting forensic science research with NIST’s Cannabis team in the Chemical Sciences Division. Her job has been to help the team chemically analyze different compounds in the plant. 



Black background. Photo of a penny. Next to the penny is a tiny amount of a white powder.
Photo illustration of 2 milligrams of fentanyl, a lethal dose in most people.
Credit: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Safe, Efficient, Reliable: New Science in the Fight Against Killer Drugs

“A new drug might appear, then three or six months later it’s gone, replaced by something new,” said NIST chemist and program manager Marcela Najarro. 



See More News and Updates



Opioids and Emerging Threats

Cannabis Breathalyzer

Created September 21, 2022, Updated February 1, 2024