Scientists set to develop new device to detect street drug ‘Spice’

A grant of £1.3 million has been awarded to scientists at the University of Bath, which will help them to develop a portable ‘Spice’ detecting device. It will be the first gadget ever to provide an on-the-spot reading for the street drug.

It is expected that the new technology will be ready for use in clinical settings, prisons and across police services within the next three years.

Spice is a synthetic form of cannabis. It is not a single drug, but a range of laboratory-made chemicals that mimic the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main psychoactive component of cannabis. Spice is capable of producing much more intense and prolonged effects at much lower doses than natural cannabis.

Reports of children mistaking Spice for cannabis are also cause for alarm. These incidents have resulted in multiple hospital admissions over the last few years.

At present, testing for Spice involves urine or hair drug testing with results available within a few days. Despite the increasingly serious public health problems that Spice poses, there are currently very few point-of-care tests to determine whether somebody has recently taken the drug. At the moment, the only option is a K2 Spice urine test.

The University of Bath team originally developed a prototype device in 2019, which was able to detect the drug from street material and in saliva in less than five minutes. The success of these trials led to increased interest from police forces, drug testing facilities, homeless charities, prisons and private organisations.

The research team, led by Dr Chis Pudney, will use the £1.3 million grant to create a simple testing solution that can be used in the field.

He said: “We hope to combine this technology with a deeper understanding of the communities that use Spice so that we can deploy the Spice-detecting technology in the most effective way possible to benefit the most vulnerable in society.”

Dr Jenny Scott from the University’s Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology added: “Drug testing and checking, which is increasing in many countries around the world and in the UK, has been shown to have an impact on drug-taking behaviour and to potentially reduce risk.”

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