Government propaganda and the BBC

drugs map of Britain

The issue of fake “THC” vapes is not a new one. Back in 2019 UKCIA reported on this very issue (Fake vape juice containing SCRA), in truth this has been a known issue for at least the past five years. Strange then that the BBC should make a programme about this very thing as if it’s reporting on some new development in series two of “Drugs map of Britain”

The story follows a predictable path. It states early on that THC vapes are legal in some countries, but not here, that cannabis is a class B drugs and can land you 5 years in prion and an unlimited fine. That is as close as we get to any discussion of the legal status. They show how easy it is to order vapes on the internet and how a young person with ADHD is using his vape to self-medicate. An on’screen graphic tells us that 1.4 million people use illegal cannabis to self medicate.

We then get to meet a callous dealer who sold fake vapes made of SCRAs, he even admitted he had no idea what was in them. This is presented as one of the risks of using illegal drugs, but there’s no consideration of what makes it so.

We then hear from an addicted user and about the problems in a school, kids being sent to hospital and so on. We meet an older young man who had a serious incident with a SCRA vape. Apparently SCRA can be “800 times more potent and toxic than cannabis”, there’s no reference given for that and given cannabis isn’t toxic it’s clearly a made up stat.

We then we meet the medical users from earlier who has now quit because he was worried about the fakes. Lastly we meet some cannabis smokers who promise they’ll quit when they have to and we get an on screen graphic telling us that “cannabis can increase the risk of psychosis and lung damage”.

The message isn’t very subtle, it’s cannabis is illegal and therefore dangerous because of SCRA fakes and anyway you’re better not using it at all.

The BBC followed this up with a news item on the BBC website with a story about some teens hospitalised by a fake THC vape – Eltham teens treated in hospital after using spiked vape.

Both of these examples, on the surface, are giving good advice about a very real danger; Illegal vapes contain unknown chemicals and sometimes they might contain SCRAs (Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists), the fake cannabis products that used to be sold as “legal highs” before 2016, when they were made illegal and thus pushed into the black market.

The news story quotes a “Met spokesman” as saying:

“Our message to the public is clear. You should never buy illegal drugs since you simply do not know what these products contain”

While that is all true, it doesn’t explain why it is true. Let’s be clear, the problem of contamination, outright fakes and evil dealers selling SCRAs to kids is not a problem caused by the drugs or drug use as such, it’s caused entirely by the nature of the supply side. This isn’t a danger caused by THC vapes, it’s a problem caused by government policy of making them illegal.

The message given in the Drugs map story is that fear of this danger is putting young people off using THC vapes. That also fits in nicely with the government’s prohibition message. The pity is it isn’t true.

The BBC is using this very serious public health issue to deflect the obvious criticism of what’s happening and to support the policy at the root of the problem, that is pretty much the definition of propaganda.

It has long been the case that a key part of the drugs strategy is to assume the fear of uncertain supplies will to discourage use, they’ve been doing this for a long time. The first problem is it doesn’t work and the second problem is it’s now a very real issue affecting a lot of people. Make no mistake, this is a very real problem and it’s getting worse. It’s not hype, people are getting seriously hurt.

Rather than act as the government’s drug policy mouthpiece the BBC should be highlighting just why this is happening, it’s really very simple.

The only way to control drugs is to control the trade in them. Under the current regime there is and can be no control over what’s sold, no control of strength, purity or any other aspect of quality control. Indeed, the present drugs policy is called “drug control”, that is the one thing it is not, there is no control over illegal drugs. To put it bluntly, illegal drugs are not controlled drugs, which is why these potentially lethal examples of fake products are now so common.

The government believes that quality control would undermine the deterrent value of this fear factor, that is beyond harm maximisation, it is utterly irresponsible.

All this is, or should be, a huge scandal, the subject of some hard-hitting documentary reporting. Instead we get this.

The BBC’s critics have often accused it of having a “left wing bias”, whatever that means. In fact it is clearly being used as the propaganda arm of the UK government, putting the lives of young people at risk in the process, all based on the assumption that fear of the danger will deter use. The only advice they can give is “just say no”, a proven failure of a policy.

To be clear, no-one is saying any kind of drug use is “safe”, nothing on earth is “safe”. But if you want to make drugs use as dangerous as possible, prohibition is how you do it. By preventing the most basic knowledge of what’s being sold, gifting the multi billion pound a year trade to organised crime and treating the very people you claim to be protecting as criminals, events can only go in one direction.

Cannabis can cause problems for it consumers, especially if high potency products are used heavily over a long time. But SCRAs are a different thing entirely, they are not cannabis, they’re more akin to the bathtub gin or moonshine whisky of 1920’s USA alcohol prohibition. Only SCRAs are far more dangerous than that. But the cause is the same and so is the solution.

A policy that deliberately sets out to make drug use as dangerous as possible is unbelievably stupid, but that’s the reality of our drug laws. It is totally unacceptable that the BBC, with its hard won reputation for objectivity and honesty in reporting, should stoop so low as to support this madness.

THC vapes exist, they are not going to go away. Therefore they should be made to the highest standards and sold though accountable, trustable outlets. Our media should be reporting not only on the existance of the problem, but also on the causes of it. Parroting the government prohibition line will only mean ever more victims.

Drugs in Britain – – THC vapes. You can watch it on BBC i-player until February 2024.


UKCIA is a cannabis law reform site dedicated to ending the prohibition of cannabis. As an illegal drug, cannabis is not a controlled substance - it varies greatly in strength and purity, it's sold by unaccountable people from unknown venues with no over sight by the authorities. There is no recourse to the law for users and the most vulnerable are therefore placed at the greatest risk. There can be no measures such as age limits on sales and no way to properly monitor or study the trade, let alone introduce proper regulation. Cannabis must be legalised, as an illegal substance it is very dangerous to the users and society at large.