The Synthesis, Characterisation and Metabolic Profiling of New Psychoactive Substances(NPS): Application to Wastewater Epidemiology

Project Supervisors:  Dr Craig McKenzie and Dr Kevin Read

Project Summary:  New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are controlled in the UK by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (as amended) or the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. The prevalence of NPS in forensic and clinical toxicology samples is increasing as well as in socio-legal studies and the use of NPS in prisons is becoming endemic (1). The chemistry of these substances varies greatly and changes rapidly. They are difficult to detect as reference standards are often unavailable and parent compounds may be metabolised rapidly. Without knowledge of the metabolic pathways, it is therefore difficult to identify parent NPS from their metabolites. Current information on the prevalence and toxicity of NPS in the general population and in particular in the prison population is therefore likely to underestimate usage. Sampling normally involves the collection of urine samples from individual prisoners. It is proposed that qualitative analysis of wastewater sampled from prisons using wastewater analysis and passive sampling techniques will provide more resource efficient data using what is effectively a pooled urine sample from the whole prison population (3).

This project proposes the development and implementation of integrated analytical methodologies to provide rapid information on NPS, supporting the work of front-line clinical and forensic toxicologists throughout Scotland and the Scottish Prison Service with the aim of developing the University of Dundee and Scotland as an International Centre of Excellence for applied NPS research. The project involves (i) synthesis of NPS reference standards, (ii) determination of human metabolite biomarkers using metabolomics (4) and (iii) using the findings to study the presence and prevalence of NPS / NPS metabolites in prison wastewater systems. The project meets a central tenet of the UK and Scottish Government strategy on NPS (information gathering on NPS prevalence and effects) and develops a pro-active response to a growing substance abuse problem.  


(1)   Scottish Government. 2016. Understanding the patterns of use, motives, and harms of New Psychoactive Substances in Scotland. [Accessed 09/01/17]

(2)   Baz-Lomba, J.A., Reid, M.J., Thomas, K.V. 2016. Target and suspect screening of psychoactive substances in sewage-based samples by UHPLC-QTOF. Analytica Chimica Acta 914, 81-90.  

(3)   Kim, H., Kim, H.S., Kong, T.Y., Lee, J.Y., Kim, J.Y., In, M.K., Lee, H.S. 2016. In vitro metabolism of a novel synthetic cannabinoid, EAM-2201, in human liver microsomes and human recombinant cytochrome P450s, Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis, 119, 50-58.