A transnational perspective on the evolution of the synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists market: Comparing prison and general populations

Caitlyn Norman, Sebastian Halter, Belal Haschimi, Dean Acreman, Josie Smith, Alex J. Krotulski (Lead / Corresponding author), Amanda L. A. Mohr, Barry K. Logan, Niamh NicDaéid, Volker Auwärter (Lead / Corresponding author), Craig McKenzie (Lead / Corresponding author)

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The synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist (SCRA) market is transnational, and the availability of individual SCRAs changes regularly in response to national and international legislative controls. This generates a cyclic pattern and near constant evolution of SCRA compounds. This study reports toxicology-based and/or seized sample-based prevalence data relating to SCRA use in prisons from Germany, the United Kingdom (UK; Scotland and Wales), and the United States (US), representing 4427 individual test results. The study examines SCRA detections in prisons from July 2018 to September 2020, and where possible, prison-based data are compared with SCRA prevalence data in the wider population. The relative influence of Chinese, other international, and national drug legislation on the prevalence of individual SCRAs in prisons is also considered. tert-Leucinate- and valinate-indole- and indazole-3-carboxamides were the most common SCRA detections, and MDMB-4en-PINACA was one of the most commonly detected SCRAs in all jurisdictions by September 2020. However, despite there being a global production and supply market, there were notable regional differences. Analog controls in German and US legislation may have led to increased compound diversity that is not reflected in the UK which has both analog controls and a blanket ban on psychoactive substances. While there were regional differences, SCRA prevalence in prisons closely aligned with the SCRAs detected on the local market, demonstrating that SCRA (and possibly other NPS) monitoring programs in prisons can act as early warning systems for the wider population in that given jurisdiction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-852
Number of pages12
JournalDrug Testing and Analysis
Issue number4
Early online date19 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • prison
  • synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists


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