London: Researchers have developed a new test for club drugs like ketamine that can detect low levels of drugs in urine and plasma.
The new test makes detecting drug abuse faster, easier and cheaper, and could give authorities the boost they need to keep up with trends in drug use, according to the researchers.
“These drugs are difficult to analyse — we see a lot of versatility in the molecules and new drugs are appearing almost every month,” said lead author of the study Eugenia Gallardo from University of Beira Interior in Portugal.
“Analytical methods for detecting drugs in biological samples play a decisive role, and their reliability is a matter of great significance in forensic and clinical toxicology,” Gallardo said.
One widely used club drug is ketamine — traditionally an animal tranquilizer — which causes users to hallucinate. Used as a date rape drug in recent years, ketamine works as a sedative, provides pain relief and causes memory loss.
When people with ketamine intoxication attend hospital emergency services, their symptoms can be mistaken easily for alcohol intoxication, resulting in them being given the wrong treatment.
The new test uses a method called gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS), which is often used in drug detection, fire investigation and environmental analysis.
The researchers extracted ketamine and the main substance produced when it breaks down, called norketamine, from 0.25 mililitre of urine and plasma samples.
Using the new method, they could detect amounts of the drug as low as five nanograms per millilitre.
“Compared with existing methods, our new procedure is faster and more cost effective,” Gallardo said.
The study was published in the Journal of Chromatography B.