Yesterday the news was awash with reports that the UK’s prisons are suffering badly from the use of synthetic cannabinoids. I’ll be calling them synthetic cannabinoids here and NOT ‘synthetic cannabis’, because they are not cannabis and the only thing they have to do with cannabis is that some of the chemicals have roughly the same structure (which means that they may or may not work on similar receptors in the brain).
The first of the more popular of these synthetic cannabinoids were Spice and K2, both white powders that are supposedly sold not for human consumption. The powder is then used much the same way as someone would put cannabis in a joint. That’s pretty much where the similarity to real cannabis ends though.
The media in the UK continues to print that Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids like it ‘mimic’ cannabis. They do not. They work on different receptors in much different ways. Comparing them to natural herbal cannabis is not only dishonest, but dangerous. For years people have been told that herbal cannabis is a dangerous drug, only to find out that isn’t the case by any means. By conflating synthetic cannabinoids with herbal cannabis, the media are saying that the two are equally safe or dangerous, and are encouraging the use of these synthetic cannabinoids because they are undetectable.
Our prisons are full of these synthetic cannabinoids because they are undetectable by traditional drug tests. They are also much easier to smuggle than herbal cannabis, and are much stronger.
There is a way to make sure these dangerous synthetic cannabinoids aren’t used in prisons. Allow the use of their far safer cousin, cannabis. Of course, there are issues with the fact that prisoners aren’t supposed to be using any drugs at all. Regardless of the crime they have committed though, we have a duty of care towards the prisoners in our care as a state. If people are going to end up killing themselves by using much harder drugs because they can’t get the softer, safer alternative, then maybe we should consider allowing the less harmful one.
My final point is this: If the government can’t stop illegal drugs getting into prison, places with high walls and endless searches, how are they supposed to stop drugs across the country? The answer is that they can’t.