Synthetic cannabinoid use among patients in residential substance use disorder treatment: prevalence, motives, and correlates

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014 Oct 1;143:268-71. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.07.009. Epub 2014 Jul 17.


Background: The abuse of synthetic cannabinoids has emerged as a public health concern over the past few years, yet little data exist characterizing the use of synthetic cannabinoids, particularly among patients seeking substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. In a sample of patients entering residential SUD treatment, we examined the prevalence of and motivations for synthetic cannabinoid use, and examined relationships of synthetic cannabinoid use with other substance use and demographic characteristics.

Methods: Patients (N=396; 67% male, 75% White, Mage=34.8) completed self-report screening surveys about lifetime prevalence of synthetic cannabinoid use, route of administration, and motives for use.

Results: A total of 150 patients (38%) reported using synthetic cannabinoids in their lifetimes, primarily by smoking (91%). Participants chose multiple motives for use and the most commonly endorsed included curiosity (91%), feeling good/getting high (89%), relaxation (71%), and getting high without having a positive drug test (71%). Demographically, those who used synthetic cannabinoids were younger and more were White. They had higher rates of other substance use and higher scores on measures of depression and psychiatric distress.

Conclusions: Lifetime synthetic cannabinoid use was relatively common in SUD patients and many of those who used it reported doing so because they believed it would not result in a positive drug test. Further research is needed to characterize the extent of synthetic cannabinoid use among SUD treatment samples, and to establish understanding of the longitudinal trajectories of synthetic cannabinoid use in combination with other substance use, psychiatric distress, and treatment outcomes.

Keywords: Motivations; Substance use disorder treatment; Synthetic cannabinoids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Alcoholism / rehabilitation*
  • Cannabinoids*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inpatients / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology*
  • Marijuana Abuse / psychology
  • Marijuana Abuse / rehabilitation*
  • Marijuana Smoking / epidemiology
  • Marijuana Smoking / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Midwestern United States
  • Motivation
  • Prevalence
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*


  • Cannabinoids