Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Tracing marijuana to its roots

25.06.2007
Scientists at the Alaska Stable Isotope Facility can tell whether marijuana confiscated in a traffic stop in Fairbanks likely came from Mexico or the Matanuska Valley.

They're also working on a way to determine whether it was grown indoors or out.

A few more years and enough samples and they hope to have something even more precise: an elemental fingerprint that could tell police where and under what conditions a sample of marijuana was grown.

"There are scientists already doing this for drugs like heroin and cocaine," said Matthew Wooller, Alaska Stable Isotope Facility director. "The potential is there for being able to do this for marijuana as well."

The key lies at the atomic level. Of particular interest to Wooller and his colleagues are the stable isotopes of four elements: carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen.

Isotopes are atoms of elements that have the same number of protons and electrons but different numbers of neutrons. A stable isotope is one that doesn't decay over time. Those additional or missing neutrons in an isotope slightly alter the mass of the atom, allowing scientists to use a stable isotope ratio mass spectrometer to separate the light isotopes from the heavy ones and form a ratio for each sample. That ratio can tell scientists about the sample and its origins.

"The marijuana holds a signature of the environment that it used to be grown in.""The marijuana holds a signature of the environment that it used to be grown in," Wooller said. "It is laid down in time and preserved in the materials that make up a plant."

For example, oxygen and hydrogen ratios can reveal information about the water a plant used while growing and, as a result, where it was grown. Water in Alaska and other high latitudes generally has a larger proportion of light oxygen and hydrogen stable isotopes than water from locations at lower latitudes. Carbon tells another story, he said. It can offer information on whether a plant was grown outdoors or inside. Nitrogen could provide even more information.

The testing at the UAF facility is novel because, for each sample, scientists are taking the isotopic signatures of four elements, rather than for just a single one, Wooller said. "We have the potential to create a precise chemical fingerprint."

The marijuana research began approximately two years ago and was initially supported by a grant from the University of Alaska President's Special Projects Fund. The UAF Police Department provided the lab samples of marijuana confiscated locally.

"We started off running samples of unknown origin," Wooller said, noting that even those samples yielded some surprising results.

Scientists initially assumed that most of the samples would show that they had been grown in Alaska rather than being imported from the low latitudes.

"In fact, what we saw is there are samples that are almost certainly grown in high latitude," he said. "Then you had marijuana that was clearly grown at lower latitudes."

Since then, the project has expanded beyond samples of unknown origin. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement have started providing samples from grows in Alaska. Wooller hopes that, with enough of those samples, he can create a marijuana isotope map for Alaska and beyond, which could eventually allow scientists to match unknown samples with known growing locations.

The project has potential to help police on multiple levels, according to Investigator Stephen Goetz at the UAF Police Department.

From an evidentiary standpoint, it could tie a growing operation to marijuana seized on the street, he said, and offer evidence of both the production of marijuana and its distribution.

"The common denominator that people use as their defense is that (they) are growing it for their personal use only," Goetz said. If marijuana seized from a dealer, for example, matched that growing operation, it could counter such a defense, he said.

It could also help the state's drug enforcement officials track the trafficking patterns of marijuana by comparing where the marijuana was grown to where it is seized, Goetz said. "It could, theoretically, focus law enforcement's efforts on where to look for (growing operations.)"

In order to get the method to that level, though, Wooller said he needs time, money and many more samples of marijuana, either from known locations or that are grown in a laboratory, such as the state crime lab, under controlled conditions.

"We need more data," Wooller said. "We need more analyses of marijuana samples from known locations so we can create these base marijuana isotope maps."

Marmian Grimes | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uaf.edu

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Underwater acoustic localization of marine mammals and vehicles
23.11.2017 | IMDEA Networks Institute

nachricht NASA CubeSat to test miniaturized weather satellite technology
10.11.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New proton record: Researchers measure magnetic moment with greatest possible precision

High-precision measurement of the g-factor eleven times more precise than before / Results indicate a strong similarity between protons and antiprotons

The magnetic moment of an individual proton is inconceivably small, but can still be quantified. The basis for undertaking this measurement was laid over ten...

Im Focus: Frictional Heat Powers Hydrothermal Activity on Enceladus

Computer simulation shows how the icy moon heats water in a porous rock core

Heat from the friction of rocks caused by tidal forces could be the “engine” for the hydrothermal activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus. This presupposes that...

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

IceCube experiment finds Earth can block high-energy particles from nuclear reactions

24.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 'half-hearted' solution to one-sided heart failure

24.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

Heidelberg Researchers Study Unique Underwater Stalactites

24.11.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>