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Anal Chem. 2004 Jul 15;76(14):4233-6.

Determination of origin of ephedrine used as precursor for illicit methamphetamine by carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratio analysis.

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Central Customs Laboratory, Ministry of Finance, 6-3-5, Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa-shi, Chiba 277-0882, Japan.


The sale of ephedrine, one of the precursors of methamphetamine, is strictly controlled and monitored in various countries to prevent the production of illicit methamphetamine. There are three kinds of production scheme for ephedrine manufacture, and it is very useful for precursor control to investigate the origin of ephedrine used for the synthesis of illicit methamphetamine. By means of stable isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IR-MS), we investigated the origin of ephedrine based on the delta(13)C and delta(15)N values. The various origins of ephedrine (biosynthetic, semisynthetic, or synthetic) could be discriminated clearly by using these values. The delta(15)N values of synthetic ephedrine were more negative than those of ephedrine from other sources. By the repeated distillation of methylamine in our laboratory, we confirmed that this could be due to isotope separation during distillation for the purification of methylamine used for ephedrine synthesis. The values for ephedrine used as the precursor were well-correlated with those for methamphetamine synthesized from it. This drug characterization analysis should be useful to illuminate the origin of the precursors used for clandestine methamphetamine and to trace the diversion of medicinal ephedrine for illicit manufacture of methamphetamine.

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