INTRODUCTION: Synthetic cannabinoids (i.e. Spice) are a major public health problem in UK prisons, however, research in this area is limited. Here we aimed to draw comparisons between people with and without experience of using synthetic cannabinoids in prison, to characterise the features of, and motivations for use within this setting and evaluate support for different treatment interventions.

METHOD: Questionnaires were administered to 122 people in a category-B prison for adult males in England between July 2022 and March 2023. Participants were asked questions related to their sociodemographic and custodial characteristics, use of synthetic cannabinoids (and other drugs) inside and outside of prison and psychological distress was measured via the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI-18). Those that had ever used synthetic cannabinoids in prison completed additional questions related to features of use, motivations for use and support for various interventions.

RESULTS: In total 46.7 % (n = 57) of participants reported use of synthetic cannabinoids in prison and this group experienced significantly greater levels of psychological distress compared to those reporting no use (mean (± standard deviation) BSI-18 scores = 23.7 (±16.7) vs 12.8 (±13.6), p < 0.001). Participants mostly reported using paper-based preparations (77.4 %) and use via e-cigarettes (75.9 %). The most strongly endorsed motivations for use included to alleviate boredom (91.1 % strongly agree/agree), to make the sentence pass faster (89.3 % strongly agree/agree) and to cope with stress (80.4 % strongly agree/agree). The interventions that received most support were strategies to better manage time and medication to manage withdrawal.

CONCLUSIONS: The use of synthetic cannabinoids in UK prisons typically involves the use of paper-based preparations via e-cigarettes, and use is associated with greater levels of psychological distress. Motivations for use were mostly pragmatic (e.g. to alleviate boredom or cope with stress) and interventions should prioritise increasing the time individuals spend out of cells and in meaningful activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104219
Number of pages9
JournalThe International journal on drug policy
Early online date7 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding sources: This research received funding from the following sources
This work was supported by grant MR/N0137941/1 for the GW4
BIOMED MRC DTP, awarded to the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff
and Exeter from the Medical Research Council (MRC)/UKRI.


Dive into the research topics of 'Synthetic cannabinoid use in an adult male prison in the UK'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this