Microcrystalline identification of selected designer drugs

Leonie Elie*, Mark Baron, Ruth Croxton, Mathieu Elie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


A microcrystalline test for the detection of 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone), benzylpiperazine (BZP) and 5,6-methylenedioxy-2-aminoindane (MDAI) using aqueous solutions of mercury chloride is described. Each of the compounds investigated formed specific drug-reagent crystals within minutes. The uniqueness of the test was confirmed by comparison of the microcrystalline response to that of other psychoactive stimulants and a common cutting agent. The limit of detection and cut-off levels for reference standards were established to 3. g/L and 5. g/L for mephedrone, 0.5. g/L for MDAI and 0.2. g/L and 0.3. g/L for BZP, respectively. Various mixtures of standards of either mephedrone, BZP or MDAI combined with caffeine were investigated for their microcrystalline response. Results showed that simultaneous detection of drug and cutting agent was possible with the concentrations tested but were dependant on the ratio of drug to cutting agent. BZP could be detected alongside caffeine from as low as 20% (v/v), MDAI from 40% (v/v) and mephedrone from 50% (v/v) and higher. Finally, seven samples of online purchased 'legal highs' were analysed using the developed test and the findings were compared to FTIR and GC-MS results. It was shown that 6 out of 7 samples did not contain the advertised active ingredient. Five samples consisted of BZP, caffeine and 1-[3-(trifluoromethyl)phenyl]piperazine (3-TFMPP). The microcrystalline tests carried out on these samples showed positive results for both BZP and caffeine without interference from other substances present.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-188
Number of pages7
JournalForensic Science International
Issue number1-3
Early online date1 Sept 2011
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


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