Qualitative analysis of seized cocaine samples using desorption electrospray ionization- mass spectrometry (DESI-MS)

Natasha Stojanovska, Mark Tahtouh, Tamsin KELLY, Alison Beavis, Shanlin Fu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Desorption electrospray ionization - mass spectrometry (DESI-MS) is a useful technique for the qualitative analysis of compounds found in seized drug material. In this study, DESI-MS was utilized in the screening analysis of illicit cocaine samples. The technique was also applied to the geographical origin determination of these samples. The limit of detection was determined to be 24.3µg (or 3.47µg/mm2) and the analysis time was less than 1minute per sample. The intra-day and inter-day precision for the detection of cocaine was 11 % and 42 %, respectively; therefore the quantitative data provided by DESI-MS was limited in its use for accurate determination of cocaine concentration in a sample. Using the quadrupole time-of-flight (QTOF) mass spectrometer, the presence of cocaine and impurities detected were confirmed by accurate tandem MS data. The qualitative chemical profiles obtained using DESI-MS were compared to two popular analysis techniques, GC-MS and LC-MS. The effects of a range of adulterants including caffeine, procaine, levamisole, lignocaine, paracetamol, and atropine on the detectability of cocaine were also investigated. It was found that the addition of these adulterants in a cocaine sample did not prevent the detection of the analyte itself (there was slight enhancement in some samples), which was useful in drug detection. The detection of truxillines in the seized samples by DESI-MS aided in the preliminary determination of geographical origin, i.e.,Bolivian, Peruvian or Colombian leaf origin. The application of DESI-MS to the qualitative analysis and screening of seized cocaine samples demonstrates the potential and applicability of the technique to the fast chemical profiling of illicit samples.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-400
Number of pages8
JournalDrug Testing and Analysis
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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