The first saliva test to detect if someone has recently taken the drug known as ‘spice’ has been developed at the University of Bath.
The saliva test can be completed on the spot and takes about five minutes. It can identify whether spice has recently been smoked, and if so which variant it has come from and how concentrated the dose was.
Spice poses a significant risk to public health, but there is currently no point-of-care test to see if someone has recently taken it. The team that developed the test hopes it can be used by health professionals to treat people suffering from adverse effects of the drug.
Many people who experience adverse effects from spice are found unconscious, incoherent or experiencing psychosis. Without being able to test for spice, a precautionary approach is often followed, which might not be the optimal course of treatment.
People undergoing temporary spice-induced psychosis may also be unnecessarily admitted to a psychiatric ward, putting pressure on already scarce NHS resources.
University of Bath senior lecturer of pharmacy and pharmacology Dr Jenny Scott said: “Detection and confirmation of spice use early on when someone is found incoherent gives a chance to start timely treatment for their symptoms. Further down the line, we can foresee the kit being used as part of a care pathway that avoids the need to hospitalise some patients if appropriate healthcare can be given where they are.”
Spice can be made from a mixture of more than 100 man-made chemicals, which is why it can be so difficult to test for. Its presence can be detected with a urine or blood sample in a laboratory, but this takes days to process and is pointless for patients needing on-the-spot care.
The research team now wants to further develop the prototype to optimise it for use in clinical settings, and hopes to be able to trial it with medical professionals within a year.
University of Bath senior lecturer of biology and biochemistry Dr Chris Pudney said: “We’ve proved the concept with a test that’s simple and very accurate. The hardware is compact and portable and the results are easy to understand. We’re working on software now, so that the user has a simple ‘one click’ way to use it.