Synthetic cannabis causes death and serious illnesses among prisoners in the UK

Synthetic cannabis is the term used for artificial, chemical compounds that mimic THC, the psychoactive compound of cannabis. Synthetic forms of cannabis are very potent and dangerous and are linked to deaths and illnesses among prison inmates in Britain.

Natural marijuana gains its psychoactive compounds from a cannabinoid known as THC. Synthetic marijuana is completely different to natural marijuana and affects the brain in alarming ways. The chemicals found in synthetic marijuana are similar to natural cannabinoids found in marijuana, but affect brain receptors differently. The synthetic cannbinoids are produced as an oil or powder that can easily be sprayed on plant material to create a product that can be smoked and provide some kind of high. Many of these chemicals are produced in unregulated, cheap basement labs, often in foreign countries.

Because of the wide variety of chemicals involved and the inconsistent manufacturing methods used to produce them, one batch may be different to another batch, which means using these drugs can be very dangerous. Chemical impurities carry additional risks.

Synthetic cannabis use by prisoners in Britain is devastating

One chief inspector of prisons in the UK admits that synthetic cannabis is having a “devastating impact” on prison inmates. Named “Spice” and “Black Mamba”, synthetic cannabis has been attributed to deaths and serious illnesses among inmates, and even the prison officials have reported feeling ill from exposure to second hand smoke fumes.

A report from the Prisons and Probation ombudsman linked 19 prison deaths between 2012 and 2014 to the use of synthetic cannabis, by far the most common of the new psychoactive substances (NPS).

Although new psychoactive substances are banned, they still find their way into prisons and it is becoming a serious problem.

Steve Gillan at the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) said that prisons are awash with synthetic cannabis, which makes the prisoners “out of their heads”, unable to even function properly. He ads that “prisoners don’t know what they are doing sometimes. They are a danger to themselves, they’re attacking staff and they are attacking other prisoners.”

Easy access to these synthetic drugs and the belief that synthetic cannabinoid products are “natural” and therefore harmless have likely contributed to their increasing use among young people. Standard drug tests cannot easily detect many of the chemicals used in these products.


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