Why Are Inmates Smoking Spice in UK Prisons?

The Growing Problem of Spice in UK Prisons

Synthetic cannabis, or Spice, is a drug that has grown in usage in the UK in recent years. Inside our prisons it is one of the most used drugs today. But why should that be?

One of the reason for the increased popularity of spice in UK prisons is because the drugs has no distinctive smell and so it can easily be passed off a rolling tobacco. Blatant use of the drug – often smoking it in front of guards – is not unknown as many of the prison staff do not have the correct drug testing equipment to be able to check for illegal drugs such as Spice. A recent Guardian survey found that the problems with Spice stretched to at least 28 UK prisons.

Spice is increasingly being smuggled into UK prisons, or thrown over the wall, leading to more and more prisoners using the drugs and an increase in health issues related to the use of the illegal, class B drug.

The drug is also being smuggled into prisons. Spice is soaked in A4 sheets of paper. This paper is torn into smaller shreds and is smoked by prisoners in e-cigarettes.

In 2014, the annual Global Drug Survey (GDS), which collects data of thousands of drug users and their experiences, suggested that those who used Spice were seven times more likely to need hospital treatment after using the drug than those who were using natural cannabis only. In the USA, several deaths have been attributed to the use of the drug which is normally sold as a smoking mixture made up of dried plant material which has been sprayed with the synthetic cannabinoids.

Problems in UK prisons, due to the use of Spice seem to be rife. The same Guardian story reported that at HM Prison Ford in West Sussex, 85% of inmates were using or dealing in the drug.  At a number of prisons, health issues caused by spice have led to a number of emergency situations, including seizures, heart failure and mental health issues.

Drug Testing in Prisons has failed to keep up with the development of new drugs such as synthetic cannabinoids and other legal highs. The list of drugs that inmates are tested for in British prisons has not been updated for five years, meaning that many of the newer drugs, such as Spice are not detected.

However, the government has announced an amendment to the criminal justice and courts bill to increase prisons’ power to screen for non-controlled drugs.

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This post has been updated since its original publication in 2014.

Photo by Larry Farr on Unsplash