Feb 25, 2013 7:57 PM by Andy Koen
COLORADO SPRINGS - The synthetic drug Spice is supposed to mimic the high that comes from using marijuana. It's legal in most places except the military. Thanks to the work of Air Force Academy cadet Alexa Gingras, it's now easier for commanders to test whether a member of their ranks has used the drug.
Gingras, a bio-chemistry major, spent her summer researching Spice at the US Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory at Lacklund Air Force Base in Texas. She was the first cadet to ever take part in research there.
"There really was no literature about Spice because it was such a new thing and really nobody was interested in it because aside from the DOD it's not illegal," Gingras said.
So, the first step in her research project was to review published papers on testing methods used for other narcotics. She discovered that the chemical additive ammonium bicarbonate can enhance drug test samples.
After talking with the doctors at the lab, they decided to try the additive on the Spice samples.
"Right off the bat we could see an improvement but we really had to refine it," Gingras said.
After refining the process, Gingras found she was able to create standard drug tests that were 400 times more sensitive to Spice than before. Additionally, her method allows scientists to detect those trace amounts of the drug after longer periods of time.
"They were estimating that 4 nanograms per mil would give you a window of about 1 to 2 weeks," she explained. "(But) 0.5 nanograms per mil would stretch out to 6-8 weeks after ingestion."
Her method is now standard practice for all Air Force drug tests. Gingras is flattered, if not a little shy about the attention her breakthrough has generated.
"It's pretty cool to see that," she said. "All this recognition, I don't know what to do about it."
Gingras will graduate with her bachelors degree in bio-chemistry from the US Air Force Academy in May. She has applied to several medical schools and has even been awarded a scholarship by the Air Force.