Enantiospecific synthesis, chiral separation and biological activity of four indazole-3-carboxamide-type synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists and their detection in seized drug samples

Lysbeth H. Antonides, Annelies Cannaert, Caitlyn Norman, Loelia Vives, Aidan Harrison, Andrew Costello, Niamh Nic Daeid, Christophe Stove, Oliver Sutcliffe (Lead / Corresponding author), Craig McKenzie (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs) have been the largest group of illicit psychoactive substances reported to international monitoring and early warning systems for many years. Carboxamide-type SCRAs are amongst the most prevalent and potent. Enantiospecific synthesis and characterization of four indazole-3-carboxamides, AMB-FUBINACA, AB-FUBINACA, 5F-MDMB-PINACA (5F-ADB), and AB-CHMINACA is reported. The interactions of the compounds with CB 1 and CB 2 receptors were investigated using a G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) activation assay based on functional complementation of a split NanoLuc luciferase and EC 50 (a measure of potency) and E max (a measure of efficacy) values determined. All compounds demonstrated higher potency at the CB 2 receptor than at the CB 1 receptor and (S)-enantiomers had an enhanced potency to both receptors over the (R)-enantiomers. The relative potency of the enantiomers to the CB 2 receptor is affected by structural features. The difference was more pronounced for compounds with an amine moiety (AB-FUBINACA and AB-CHMINACA) than those with an ester moiety (AMB-FUBINACA and 5F-MDMB-PINACA). An HPLC method was developed to determine the prevalence of (R)-enantiomers in seized samples. Lux® Amylose-1 [Amylose tris(3,5-dimethylphenylcarbamate)] has the greatest selectivity for the SCRAs with a terminal methyl ester moiety and a Lux® i-Cellulose-5 column for SCRAs with a terminal amide moiety. Optimized isocratic separation methods yielded enantiomer resolution values (Rs) ≥ 1.99. Achiral GC-MS analysis of seized herbal materials (n = 16), found 5F-MDMB-PINACA (< 1.0-91.5 mg/g herbal material) and AMB-FUBINACA (15.5-58.5 mg/g herbal material), respectively. EMB-FUBINACA, AMB-CHMICA, 5F-ADB-PINACA isomer 2, and ADB-CHMINACA were also tentatively identified. Analysis using chiral chromatography coupled to photodiode array and quadrupole time of flight mass spectrometry (chiral HPLC-PDA-QToF-MS/MS) confirmed that the (S)-enantiomer predominated in all samples (93.6-99.3% (S)-enantiomer). Small but significant differences in synthesis precursor enantiopurity may provide significant differences between synthesis batches or suppliers and warrants further study. A method to compare potency between samples containing different SCRAs at varying concentrations was developed and applied in this small preliminary study. A 10-fold difference in the "intrinsic" potency of samples in the study was noted. With the known heterogeneity of SCRA infused materials, the approach provides a simplified method for assessing and communicating the risk of their use.

Original languageEnglish
Article number321
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalFrontiers in Chemistry
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2019


  • Bioassay
  • Chiral
  • Detection
  • Pharmacology
  • Synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)


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