Stephen Raso

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Suzanne Bell

Committee Co-Chair

Jonathan Boyd

Committee Member

Patrick Callery

Committee Member

Harry Finklea

Committee Member

Glen Jackson


Synthetic cannabinoids have become a ubiquitous challenge in forensic toxicology and seized drug analysis. Acute toxic effects associated with these drugs include tachycardia, seizures, depression, possible suicidal tendencies, and the onset of psychotic episodes. Synthetic cannabinoids were initially synthesized for research purposes in understanding the receptor-ligand interactions at the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. They are similar to Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and also act as agonists at the cannabinoid receptors. Originally it was hoped that this class of drug would be useful for pain relief, but instead this class of compounds has become widely abused, typically via smoking or heated vapor inhalation. The mode of ingestion is important in this context as heating creates many new potentially toxic agents, some of which may interact with the cannabinoid receptors as well.;The objectives of this research are to determine pyrolytic products produced from the smoking process of selected representative synthetic cannabinoids and evaluate their presence in true case samples to establish the necessity for inclusion in toxicological assessment. This is a timely project given that current literature reports describe the detection of thermal degradation products of two synthetic cannabinoids in traditional toxicological matrices; blood and urine. Fundamental understanding of the toxic effects of thermal degradation products could assist forensic toxicologists in assessing intoxication and in development of new assays. This knowledge could also be of use to the field of medicolegal death investigation and finally in the broader context of public health and safety.;Proof of thermal degradation product production and ingestion are crucial to set a precedent for further studies of possible toxicity. The current research utilizes an optimized pyrolysis methodology, where a predictive model for thermal degradation was established. An extraction and LC/MS/MS method was validated according to the guidelines set forth by the Standard Practices for Method Validation in Forensic Toxicology, and the project aids in achieving research goals on the set out by SWGTOX in August 2014; such as goal 3.1, Characterization of Toxicants and 3.2 Factors Affecting the Interpretation of Forensic Toxicology Data.