Detox agents for masking drugs?

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  • Published: Mar 2, 2009
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: HPLC
thumbnail image: Detox agents for masking drugs?

The long winter months following the excesses of the Christmas and New Year periods appear to be a time of introspection when many of us decide to repair our lives and lifestyles. One of the more common ways to achieve this is the new fad of detoxing, with the aim of ridding the body of the toxins that have accumulated over time. Detox diets, books and products have swamped the consumer market, attempting to persuade us that they can achieve what the body?s natural processes cannot.

A second, more sinister, application of detox agents has emerged recently. It appears that they can mask the presence of illegal drugs so that they remain undetected during testing. A simple search of the worldwide web reveals a myriad of liquids, capsules and other concoctions claiming to do this. If this proves to be true, it would have serious consequences for regulatory authorities and drug testing agencies.

The potential masking effect has been investigated by a team of scientists from the Republic of Korea, with senior reporter Hye Hyun Yoo and colleagues from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology and the Drug Analysis Laboratory of the Supreme Prosecutors? Office, both in Seoul. They monitored the effects of two detox agents on the elimination of methamphetamine from the rat.

One detox agent was in capsule form and listed the contents as eight vitamins plus herbal extracts from plants such as dandelion, red clover and sasparilla. Not surprisingly, the directions for use suggest drinking about one pint of water within 15 minutes, followed by regular volumes of water over the next six hours. This large volume of water would flush out the system quite effectively on its own. The second agent was in liquid form and contained high levels of carbohydrates and sugars, as well as many trace elements and vitamins.

A group of rats was administered a single dose of methamphetamine and the urine was collected over the next few hours. Then the detox product was administered and urine was collected over the following 18-22 hours. A control group of rats was given methamphetamine the same way, but followed by water instead of detox product.

All urines were spiked with an internal standard solution of eperisone, a compound with some structural similarities to methamphetamine. Following deproteinisation with acetonitrile, the clear supernatants were analysed by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry to measure the levels of drug in the various urines. A C18 column was employed with a gradient of acetonitrile in ammonium formate buffer as eluate. The mass spectrometer was operated in electrospray ionisation mode, monitoring ion transitions for methamphetamine, its major metabolite amphetamine, and the internal standard.

The plots of the methamphetamine and amphetamine levels vs. urine collection time for the control rats and those treated with the detox agents were compared. The volumes of urine collected were not significantly different between the control and test animals, so were not a factor in the interpretation of the data.

For the detox capsule, the levels of both methamphetamine and its metabolite were slightly greater for the rats given the detox agent rather than the control. This is the opposite effect to that expected, but the researchers declared the small differences to be statistically insignificant. For the group treated with the liquid detox agent, the methamphetamine and amphetamine levels showed no change from the control group.

The results suggest that the detox agents have minimal effects on the metabolic clearance of methamphetamine. Clearly, they do not make the drug disappear any more quickly, so measurement by mass spectrometry is not affected. However, other detection techniques like optical spectroscopy or immunoassays might be influenced by the presence of the detox agents, since they contain many components, some of which might interfere in the tests.

Methamphetamine detection by mass spectrometry is not masked. However, the research team point out that this is a limited study, examining the effects of just two detox agents on one drug. The work needs to be extended to other classes of illegal drug, with more types of detox agent, to see if the conclusions can be generalised.

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.


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