University of Illinois at Chicago
STANG-THESIS-2023.pdf (1.72 MB)

Pyrolysis of Drugs of Abuse Individually and Adulterated: Implications on Medicine and Forensics

Download (1.72 MB)
posted on 2023-05-01, 00:00 authored by Brianna Stang
Since the 1980s, many drug users began to smoke their drug of choice instead of injecting due to risk of infection and contraction of diseases like HIV. However, there are unique health risks and dangers posed to drug users who smoke rather than inject. Thermal degradation products, or pyromarkers, are formed during pyrolysis reactions that occur when smoking. Their identity and quantity can be affected by factors including temperature and presence of cutting agents. With the rise of fentanyl adulteration in street drugs, this increases health risks for users who smoke. Studies show that mixtures of heroin and fentanyl produce new pyromarkers at varying pyrolysis temperatures and mixture ratios. The identity and quantity of pyromarkers produced by these drug substances is highly necessary and can be broadly applied to forensics and medicine. Investigation of pyromarkers would allow forensic chemists and toxicologists to add more compounds to drug screens as well as their metabolites that can be identified in biological samples. Analysis of pyromarkers is particularly advantageous for forensic chemists analyzing drug smoke residues and/or smoking paraphernalia since there is likely a low amount of the parent drug left behind. This research is also beneficial to medical personnel as it can improve their diagnostic testing workflow and treatment of patients due to potentially unique forms of injury/disease. For instance, heroin induced leukoencephalopathy (HIL) is a unique form of leukoencephalopathy associated with a rapid onset of symptoms specifically caused by smoking heroin. Novel respiratory or neurological diseases like HIL could also develop for cocaine, cannabis, and/or fentanyl. Further investigation into the pyrolysis of cannabis is highly necessary with increasing legalization across the United States. For the reasons above, smoking is a potentially more dangerous route of administration than injection for recreational drug users.



Larsen, Albert K


Larsen, Albert K


Pharmaceutical Sciences

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Masters

Degree name

MS, Master of Science

Committee Member

Bash, Jennifer Koch, Ronald L

Submitted date

May 2023

Thesis type



  • en

Usage metrics


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager