The first synthetic cannabinoid was synthesized in 1988; it was created by an organic chemist at Clemson University named John W. Huffman. He used his initials and designated this range of chemicals JWH-XXX (XXX representing the version numbers of his creations). There are nearly 400 active substances synthesized by Dr. Huffman (JWH-004 through JWH-425, with a few gaps for versions that were inactive or otherwise not optimal). We first started seeing evidence of these chemicals in illicit formulations in 2008, with JWH-018 & JWH-073 being the earliest; as mentioned above, the first retail products that we saw were K2 and Spice.
While there are a couple of synthetic cannabinoids that have an acceptable medical use, the vast majority of them are rightly considered dangerous drugs. Some of the effects (usually at lower doses) do mimic the effects of THC, but the side-effects are much more severe than THC and can include paranoia and psychosis. It is such an extreme substance that Dr. Huffman himself has said “It bothers me that people are so stupid as to use this stuff”.
As with the naming scheme, the drug testing industry also targeted these earliest versions of this burgeoning drug when determining which substances the test should detect. As such, the earliest tests were simply detecting the JWH-018 & JWH-073 (and their metabolites). As governments scrambled to enact laws against these substances, the manufacturers turned to other synthetic cannabinoids in their products to try and stay ahead of the law. Thus began the great “whack-a-mole” between manufacturers, law-makers, and drug test manufacturers trying to stay ahead of the changes. Currently our K2/Spice test detects 18 different substances. Unfortunately, not including the JWH compounds, there are 100+ synthetic cannabinoids that have been synthesized, but the test is constantly evolving. Recently we started seeing a synthetic cannabinoid hitting the streets that is a different structural classification (one of seven such classifications) – still part of the 100+ mentioned above. Substances in this classification, as well as the tests for them, are being colloquially referred to as K3. The K3 test detects another 14 substances. Currently the best solution for detecting synthetic cannabinoid use would be a “K2/K3 Combo” test; it is a test that has separate test areas for both classifications and provides a total of 32 substances detected.
Luckily, as of now, synthetic cannabinoid use is on the decline. Hopefully tighter enforcement and education will continue this trend. In the meantime, we will – as always – continue our progress in providing you a method of detecting these dangerous substances.
Since March, as businesses and government agencies started closing and investigating safer alternative ways of testing procedures, more and more people have been inquiring about oral fluids testing for drugs of abuse. These are sometimes referred to as saliva tests or mouth swabs. So, let’s talk a little bit about what they are, how they work, and why the sudden spike in interest.
There are a couple of reasons for the impression that oral fluids testing allows for a safer collection protocol. Firstly, an oral fluids drug test can be performed remotely via video conferencing software. The administrator can watch the donor collect the specimen themselves, watch the collected specimen being inserted into the test, and watch the results develop without the device or donor leaving the camera view. Secondly, an oral fluids test can be performed in an outdoor setting while maintaining social distancing guidelines. Of course, the donor must remove their face covering to collect the specimen, but you should still be able to witness the entire process at a safe distance.
How They Work & Procedures
If you are unfamiliar with oral fluids test, there are basically two parts: the collector, which is a sponge attached to a plastic handle and the test device itself, where the collector (sponge) is inserted to direct the specimen into the well inside of the test where the test strips are located. The collection process can be a little tricky until you get the hang of it – for starters, an uncooperative donor can purposefully withhold collecting enough saliva to allow the test to function – but once the procedure is mastered, the test is as easy to perform and read as a urine drug test. One other tricky step with collecting a specimen is that the test requires more saliva than you might think. The instructions only mention the amount of time it should take until you have enough specimen, but it is not that black and white. The donor should compress the sponge against their cheek or tongue and allow the decompression to absorb the excess fluid. In the worst-case scenario, they can also expectorate directly into the test device, or into an external receptacle, which can then be poured into the test.
Oral fluids tests have come a long way in the past 12-15 years. If you had asked back then, I would have discouraged their use or at least give warning about their accuracy and other shortcomings. Today, however, they are just as accurate as the urine drug tests that we provide. Additionally, the number of substances that can be tested has significantly caught up to the options we have for urine testing. Add to this the fact that it is impossible to adulterate an oral fluids test, if the instructions are followed properly, making them an excellent tool to have at your disposal.
Shortcomings & Final Word
Perhaps the only shortcoming of oral fluids testing, especially for most of your purposes, would be the window of detection. As the toxicology of urine closely mirrors the toxicology of blood, drugs are only detectable while they are still in the bloodstream, much like a breathalyzer only detecting current intoxication as opposed to an EtG test offering detection for up to 80 hours after use. So, the best-case scenario for oral fluids testing would be detection of less than 24 hours after use. In some situations, such as injury at work, where the important factor is detecting current intoxication, oral fluids testing makes the most sense. However, this window of detection isn’t always as useful to someone when the need to detect recent and past drug use requires a detection window that goes back days or even weeks in some cases.
In summary, oral fluids testing is a great option for programs looking to detect recent drug use. Though there are some drawbacks with their window of detection, they can be administered safely and frequently, while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines. If you would like any additional information on this, or any other subject, please leave a comment below or reach out to us directly. Stay safe and be well.