The investigation of pyrolysis products of South African street drug, nyaope

  • Gothatamang Norma Phokedi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research investigates a new South African street drug called nyaope. It is not exactly known what the ingredients of this drug are, but some reports say it is a cocktail of many illegal substances ranging from heroin, cannabis, methamphetamine, cocaine to pain killers, where in each case, the material also includes anti-retroviral drugs. The main ingredient is believed to be the anti-retro viral drug, efavirenz (EFV), thought to prolong the effects of other narcotic drugs in the nyaope mixture. Following reports of an overwhelming increase of its abuse, nyaope was eventually brought under legal control in 2014. Originally nyaope was mixed with cannabis for smoking but more recently people also choose to chew, snort, inject or heat the mixtures over aluminium foil and inhale the fumes.

The work presented in this thesis involves the first development and validation of a methodology for the routine isolation of pyrolysis products of efavirenz in mixtures with other alleged components of the nyaope street drug. The products (generated during pyrolysis) can be used to study the abuse potential of efavirenz in terms of a verification of its presence or otherwise in nyaope residues seized by law enforcement. Pyrolysis products were analysed using Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) and High Performance Liquid chromatography (HPLC).

Pyrolysis products of EFV on its own and then in mixtures with other suggested components of the nyaope street drug (methamphetamine, amphetamine, heroin, cannabis and opium) were sequentially investigated. The successful use of activated carbon strips in trapping pyrolysis products of the various illicit drugs and drug mixtures during this research was demonstrated and a novel robust analytical methodology developed.

Each drug was first heated separately and analysed to generate their background pyrolysis product signature. This was followed by mixing each drug with efavirenz and heating the mixture. The results revealed that the presence of efavirenz in mixtures of Amphetamine type stimulant drugs and heroin did not disrupt the production of the expected pyrolysis products of these drugs and vice versa. However, heating a mixture of opium and EFV revealed only the presence of EFV and its pyrolysis product suggesting that the presence of EFV prevented the pyrolysis of the cannabis and opium

The pyrolysis of methamphetamine and amphetamine interestingly, also revealed the presence of synthetic reaction impurities from starting materials and intermediate products of chemical reactions applied during the various synthesis processes. These were further examined and were successfully used to determine the potential synthetic routes used during the manufacture of the methamphetamine samples used for this research. This provides new opportunities to generate intelligence information regarding the manufacturing process of these materials from physical evidence such as residues of smoked or heated materials.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsBotswana International University of Science and Technology
SupervisorNiamh Nic Daeid (Supervisor) & Sue Black (Supervisor)

Cite this