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5 Weird Ways Inmates Get High

Where there’s a will, there’s a way—even when people behind bars are bored, lonely, or anxious.

Illicit drug use in prison is nothing new. It’s even been said that it’s easier to get drugs in prison than on the streets, something that can be hard to imagine. However, the Daily Beast’s account of what former inmates shared with them about how the drug trade works in prison—from how prisoners get the drugs in to sell them to how they turn prison currency into real money—can help outsiders get some insight into how some prison drug trades work.

Some of these drug distribution systems are quite elaborate, and there’s a lot of assistance from outside sources who help funnel addictive substances through the system and past authorities. A quick Google search turns up all kinds of stories of people attempting to smuggle drugs into prison under the watchful eyes of prison officials. One man even tried to use drones to fly drugs into a men’s prison in Liverpool, United Kingdom. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

“People are always trying to smuggle drugs in,” Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections, told The Washington Times. “Our ultimate goal is to get rid of it, but I’d be a fool to tell you that will ever be realized.”

It might be hard to believe that places on lockdown have such a problem getting drug use and drug dealing under control. But the evidence is there. Here are five weird ways some jail and prison inmates have found around the system to get high.


Three inmates at an England prison were recently filmed inhaling nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, from canisters via a balloon. The colorless gas is also known as “hippy crack,” according to a Daily Mail article. Video footage of the men, which was recorded by an unknown source, shows them in various states as they inhale the gas. In one video, a man appeared to lose consciousness after breathing in the substance.

According to the site Frank, inhaling nitrous oxide can bring feelings of euphoria and relaxation. But it also can cause people to experience hallucinations when used at higher concentrations, and death is possible if there is a lack of oxygen when using the substance. In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to supply or import nitrous oxide for human consumption, according to the Psychoactive Substances Act.


In 2016, a Virginia jail implemented a ban on inmates receiving personal photographs after investigators discovered the images were soaked in liquid Suboxone, a drug commonly used in drug addiction treatment. The inmates chewed on the photographs to absorb the contents, according to an article written by The Roanoke Times.

According to investigators, it can be difficult to detect suboxone on photographs. Though, on white paper, it shows up as a yellow stain that can still be hard to identify if the person isn’t trained on what to look for.

Jail officials also have intercepted letters written on non-white paper that contained suboxone as well as coloring pages that are popular among children. Suboxone also has been found placed between layers of photos and hidden between pages that have been glued together.

Other ways addictive substances are slipped to inmates include lacing the sticky part of mailed envelopes and soaking greeting cards, books, and even children’s drawings with substances.


Speaking of children’s drawings, some people are using those to distribute the deadly street drug known as K2 or Spice. These drugs, formally known as synthetic cannabinoids, are among those drugs being sprayed onto crayon illustrations and smuggled into prisons, according to an article by The Sun newspaper that highlights findings from a film titled “The Secret Life of Prisons.”

Once the inmate receives the drawing, they break off pieces of it, roll those pieces up and mix them in with their tobacco before smoking it, explains someone in the film. Inmates may know the substance by its nickname “Katie Price.”

K2 is known as “synthetic marijuana,” “legal marijuana,” or “fake weed” on some drug scenes, but K2 is not traditional marijuana at all. It is a mixture of shredded plant material that is sprayed with harmful, mind-altering chemicals that create unpredictable and life-threatening effects for recreational users. Those include an elevated mood, relaxed state, an altered perception of reality, and psychosis, which is delusional and disordered thinking.

It has been difficult for authorities in the United States to crack down on K2 because users continue to change its contents to stay ahead of the law. The substance is also marketed as something else, such as “potpourri” and “room freshener,” making it harder for them to track the substance down.


There have been prisoners who have cooked and stored mixtures of water, fruit, sugar, and other ingredients, which could include anything from prunes to moldy bread, to make “hooch,” or prison wine, as some call it. This beverage is also known as jailhouse wine or pruno. It can get users drunk, which is the point, but it also can make them sick. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2013 report, eight male inmates in a maximum security prison in Arizona were treated in a hospital for an acute neurologic condition that was suspected to be botulism, a “serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum,” the report said. This particular outbreak was the second one; there was another that occurred in a prison in 2012, and it involved four inmates who drank the illegally brewed alcoholic beverage pruno.


Drug abuse among inmates sometimes involves prescription medications that are commonly used to treat chronic mental health disorders. According to the Albuquerque Journal, these drugs—called psychotropic medications—used to treat anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other conditions in inmates are abused for the sleep effects they produce or used as an aid for sexual function.

They also may be used by people who self-medicate as they manage addictions to illicit drugs. One former inmate told the paper that she used Wellbutrin to help with her methamphetamine addiction while she was incarcerated. Bupropion, called the “poor man’s coke” outside of prison, is also another medication that is abused by inmates, according to the article.

“Researchers have found that prescribed drugs, because they are legal and present in prisons, are easier for inmates to obtain than illegal drugs,” the Albuquerque Journal writes.

Former inmates told the newspaper that psychotropic medications are given out in crushed form along with a cup of water. But some inmates managed to spit the drugs and water mixture back into the cup and take it back to their cell and let it dry out so they could snort or inject the dried substance later.


These are just a few ways inmates get high. They illustrate that being inside the walls of a jail or prison doesn’t protect inmates from drugs or drug use, data show. And it doesn’t “scare them straight,” or deter them from doing drugs. According to The Marshall Project, half to two-thirds of inmates abuse or are addicted to drugs. Prisons and jails are aware of the issue as many have offered substance abuse treatment programs including 12-step groups, self-help groups, and faith-based guidance.

Overdose also is a real possibility for inmates who use drugs while locked up.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2016 that, according to Marin County coroner records, six death row inmates who died between 2010 and 2015 had detectable levels of methamphetamines, heroin metabolites, or other drugs in their systems. One inmate died when five snipped fingers of a latex glove filled with methamphetamine or marijuana burst in his intestines. There also were eight non-fatal drug overdoses during this period, data show.

Past research from the National Center on Addiction and Substance stated that “of the more than 2.3 million people in American prisons and jails, more than 65 percent meet medical criteria for substance abuse addiction.”

The report also said only 11 percent of all inmates with substance abuse and addiction disorders receive any treatment during their incarceration.


Drug and alcohol addiction does not discriminate. Whether one is incarcerated or free to move about the world, it is possible to develop a dependence or addiction to harmful substances. If you or someone you know is grappling with a substance abuse problem, call our addiction specialists now at (855) 757-2128 or contact us online to learn more about treatment methods best fit for you. Addiction is a chronic disease, but it’s treatable, and no one should go through it alone.


Elysia Richardson

Elysia L. Richardson is a writer and editor at Delphi Behavioral Health Group.

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