This had to happen, it was only a matter of time.
The Greater Manchester Drug Alert Panel (GMPA) have issued a warning about supposedly THCvapes which actually contain what they refer to as “spice”, but which are more correctly termed SCRAs (Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists).
Young people have been warned not to buy or use vaping liquid that dealers are selling as a natural cannabis-based “THC vape”, but which is in fact “spice”.
At least six incidents of young people collapsing and being hospitalised having vaped this liquid have been confirmed in Bury, Oldham and Rochdale, Greater Manchester, since February 2019.
and they add
“The risk of vaping ‘spice’ is far more dangerous than from a natural cannabis product.
“It is difficult for even experienced spice users to judge dosage and unintentionally administering a toxic dose is common. Severe poisoning is far more common with synthetic cannabinoids than with cannabis and in some cases, the poisoning may even be fatal.”
Cannabis never causes “severe poisoning” of course, but this is an agency press release. They’re basically right though, cannabis presents nothing like the harm these chemicals can cause.
SCRAs are synthetic (man-made) chemicals that interact with the same receptors in the brain as cannabis does, hence the “cannabinoid receptor agonist” part of the name. While they are known as “Spice” or “K2”, they are in fact a whole range of chemicals which makes predicting their effects or the potential harm difficult. They not cannabis compounds and have a significantly different effect on the consumer to real cannabis. SCRAs are indeed dangerous, (the conversation) they lead to mental illness and physical harm and are highly addictive and, as the GMPA state, they may even prove to be fatal.
They were invented by the US NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) in the 1980’s, as its name suggests is an arm of the US drug war establishment so SCRAs represent a true own goal of staggering proportions. In the early 2000’s they were then marketed as a legal alternative to cannabis as a “legal high”, being sprayed onto inert vegetable matter to make a smokable product. They have now been banned under the Psycho Active Substances Act which resulted in them becoming a serious problem amongst the socially marginalised, homeless and prisoners and now they’ve turned up as fake cannabis vapes.
The cannabis trade of course is a massive industry, all totally unregulated and uncontrolled because of the current drugs policy. Given that cannabis is relatively expensive and SCRAs are very cheap, the opportunity for unscrupulous people to make huge profits by passing SCRAs off as cannabis was obvious and vape juice presents the easy way to do it.
Vaping is growing in popularity within the cannabis community and for good reasons, it’s the safest way to “smoke” cannabis, the fast acting hit meaning it’s easy to gauge the dose and sharing a vape has the same social quality of sharing joints. Vape liquids are made from cannabis concentrates and – if they’re made correctly – offer the best way to consume cannabis. Vapes are also discreet of course, making them ideal for avoiding detection. So it is that vaping has grown massively in recent years and easy access via the “dark web” is changing the way many people buy and consume cannabis.
But of course, being illegal there is no quality control. Any analysis data provided with the product is best taken with a pinch of salt and so we have this new problem, another of the many “unintended consequences” of the insane policy of prohibition. This is a problem that simply would not be happening if it weren’t for our drugs policy.
The GMPA warning focuses on the danger to young people in the northwest, but it’s likely to be a much bigger, nationwide, problem although not one that will usually affect kids. By coincidence this issue came to light last weekend when I came across two people with apparently identical vapes from the same supplier bought at the same time that claimed to be THCV, in the south of England.
One of the vapes gave a reasonable dose which resembled cannabis but was very short-lived. The other vape however gave a much stronger dose and when someone who had been sampling the weaker device had a go it resulted in him becoming unable to move or talk and to be totally unaware of where he was. Had he not been propped up by a parked car, he would have fallen over. This is how he described things as best I can remember it:
The effect came on almost instantly and suddenly he was standing looking into a car at the driver. He had no idea where or when he was or who these people were (actually they were friends well-known to him). He was unable to move or speak and although he could see, it all looked strange and distant, somehow not real, He was there but not there, on the outside looking in.
He had no idea how long all this lasted, but it was about 10-15 minutes, another five and it was mostly over. To an observer, the similarity between this and the “zombie spice” incidents often featured in the tabloid press was striking. This stuff certainly wasn’t cannabis.
The message to cannabis consumers is to be careful and to be aware of the problem. If you buy a batch of cannabis that has markedly different effects than normal, be aware it may not be the real thing and you’re probably best not taking it. If you do decide to go ahead, don’t do it alone and especially don’t get into the habit of chasing that high. There is no way to tell by looking at just what vape liquids contain, buying from people you don’t know is always ‘buyer beware’. Thank our stupid politicians and their brain-dead drugs policy.
I left a comment on the GMPA press release as it invites you to do where I drew attention to prohibition as the cause of this problem. The comment was deleted almost immediately. At the time of writing this, no comments are displayed, so I suspect they are simply not allowing any criticism of the prohibition policy. Frankly, this demonstrates their lack of openness.
GMPA have circulated this warning to some agencies:
The alert is being circulated to schools, NHS staff, local policing teams, drug use support services and children’s services in order to help them to warn and inform young people not to take this drug.
But have made no effort to warn the vast majority of cannabis consumers who may be at risk of this scam, it is not just children in the north-west who are at risk from this, indeed it’s more likely to be adults who are more likely to be able to afford such products.
Make no mistake, this is a problem created entirely by the present drugs policy, it is only happening because cannabis is not a controlled drug and the massive multi billion pound industry that feeds the demand from millions of consumers is totally uncontrolled.
SCRAs are the moonshine of cannabis, a true product of prohibition just as moonshine was and just as with moonshine, the only way to deal with the problem is to end this failed prohibition policy.
Prohibition, our present drugs policy, really can kill and this is the way it can do it.
EX-SCRA: Understanding A New Prohibition Created Danger – a UKCIA blog entry from 2012
Note – this blog has been amended to correct the attribution of the warning, which was issued by the Greater Manchester Drug Alert Panel and not Greater Manchester Police as originally stated.