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Title: The physical and chemical characterisation of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine ecstasy tablets : implications for users
Author: Mifsud, Mario
ISNI:       0000 0004 5357 6206
Awarding Body: King's College London (University of London)
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2014
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Aim: The physical and chemical characterisation of batches of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) / ‘ecstasy’ tablets seized in Malta were investigated to derive new information to be used for forensic intelligence purposes. Methods: Thirty seizures containing 45 batches of ‘ecstasy’ tablets were investigated for their physical (logo, breakline, colour, shape, mass, diameter, thickness, hardness, friability and disintegration rate) and chemical characteristics over a 5 year period. Impurity profiling was carried out by GC-MS with additional chemical characterization by colour tests, TLC, FT-IR and SEM-EDX. MDMA enantiomer ratio was determined by TFAA derivatisation followed by GC-MS analysis on a chiral column. The effect of UV and fluorescent light, temperature (5, 15, 25, 35 and 40°C) and humidity (33 and 75% RH) on the physical features was assessed. ‘Ecstasy’ tablets from seizures (N = 172) at EDM parties by the police were analysed to determine the psychoactive substance content per tablet. Partygoers at an EDM party were interviewed to determine their drug-use, including ‘ecstasy’ tablets and party behaviour. Results: Of the 45 batches examined 66.7% contained MDMA only as the main active ingredient, 6.7% contained mCPP, 4.4% BZP, 2.2% (1 batch) DPIA, 2.2% methanostenolone and 13% caffeine only. The majority of seized tablets were round in shape (91%) with logo (88.9%). The mean of means for mass of 237.2 mg (RSD 28.9%), diameter 8.09 mm (RSD 12.0%) and thickness 3.86 mm (RSD 19.1%). Of the 4 batches of tablets subjected to photostability testing (white, blue, green and orange colour), only the orange-coloured tablets showed a significant change in colour (p < 0.05, one-way ANOVA). The diameter of tablets stored at 15°C and 75% RH increased by 1.22 mm (p < 0.05, one-way ANOVA) and the thickness of tablets stored at 40 and 15°C respectively and 75% RH increased by 0.14 and 0.12 mm respectively (p < 0.05, one-way ANOVA). Chemical profiling determined that the Leuckart and reductive amination reactions were most probably used to synthesize the racemic MDMA and all tablets had a 50:50 ratio of R and S enantiomers. Lactose was the excipient mostly detected in tablets (40%). ‘Ecstasy’ tablets were the second most commonly confiscated drug at EDM parties (27.9%, n = 48 / 172) (cannabis being the most common), however our interviewed clubbers mostly (98.3%, n = 57) used alcohol. Conclusion: Physical and chemical characterisation can help link or discriminate between batches of ‘ecstasy’ tablets. For intelligence purposes tablets should be stored away from sunlight (visible and UV light) and at low RH (≈ 25%) and temperature (≈ 25°C).
Supervisor: Wolff, Kim; Jickells, Sue; Mifsud, Janet Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available