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Forensic Sci Int. 2010 May 20;198(1-3):46-52. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2009.12.014. Epub 2010 Jan 6.

Potential of IRMS technology for tracing gamma-butyrolactone (GBL).

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  • 1Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analyses, University Centre of Legal Medecine, Geneva and Lausanne, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois and University of Lausanne, Ch. des Croisettes 22, Epalinges, Switzerland.


Popularity of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) is fairly stable among drug users, while the consumption of its chemical precursor, gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), is a growing phenomenon. Although conventional analytical methods allow to detect this substance in various matrices, linking a trace and a source is still a difficult challenge. However, as several synthesis pathways and chemical precursors exist for the production of GBL, its carbon isotopic signature may vary extensively. For that purpose, a method has been developed to determine the carbon isotopes content of GBL by means of gas chromatography/combustion/isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC/C/IRMS). The delta(13)C-values of 19 bulk samples purchased worldwide were in the range from -23.1 to -45.8 per thousand (SD<0.3 per thousand). Furthermore, testing on the purification of GBL by distillation has not been found to be consistent with such a large range of delta(13)C-values, which are likely to result from the isotopic composition of the organic precursors used to produce GBL together with the kinetic isotope effect associated with the synthesis routes. Finally, inter- and intra-variability measurements of the delta(13)C-values demonstrated the high potential of IRMS for discriminating between seizures of GBL and for source determination.

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