Fake vape juice containing SCRA

Image from GMP of the SCRA vapejuice

GMPA provided this image of the vape liquid (Click to enlarge)

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

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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.

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About UKCIA

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.

7 comments on “Fake vape juice containing SCRA

  1. Michael Linnell

    Re: your comments on the Greater Manchester Alert.

    The alert was not issued by the Greater Manchester Police, but by the Greater Manchester Drug Alert Panel, which is a multi-disciplinary panel comprising professionals in public health, medicine, psychopharmacology, drug treatment etc as well as officers from Greater Manchester police. The panel works to Public Health England guidelines which were followed in these incidents.
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/issuing-public-health-alerts-about-drugs

    The drugs involved in this alert were being mis-sold as cannabis concentrates, to which there is growing concern from the United States around toxicity, however the point of the phrase used was to explain that SCRAs are far more toxic than THC.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5679763/

    The phrase ‘severe poisoning’, was taken directly from the recent European Monitoring Centre (EMCDDA) report: Developments in the European cannabis market http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/11391/TDAU19001ENN.pdf
    “Severe poisoning is more common with synthetic cannabinoids than with cannabis. In some cases, the poisoning may even be fatal (Trecki et al., 2015)”

    The term ‘Spice’ was used in the public press release as most members of the general public, including the local school age children who have been involved in these incidents, would understand that term but may not have understood the term synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist (SCRA). Information about the two SCRAs (5f-MDMB PICA and 4f-MDMB BINACA) detected in the samples was used in the briefing we provided for professionals in the Greater Manchester area before the alert went public.

    The comment about “… have made no effort to warn the vast majority of cannabis consumer” is a bit silly. Those involved in reported incidents have all been school age children who have been ripped off and sold a far more dangerous product, so that is the primary audience for the warning. The panel had assumed that adult cannabis users read newspapers, listen to radio, watch telly, look at social media etc etc, so like yourself would have see the warning and the numerous media reports about it.

  2. UKCIA Post author

    Michael, thanks for the comments

    By justifying the use of the term “spice” you seem to be saying the warning is aimed at members of the public who are likely to be purchasing or using these vapes, as you say the use of the word “spice” is so the general public can relate to it.

    If that is the aim, then the warning needs to communicate the situation in ways that they can not only relate to but also not be alienated by. I would argue the people this warning needs to be aimed at are those likely to to be buying or consuming THCvapes. To imply that cannabis can lead to “severe poisoning”, while perhaps strictly correct in the professional sense, will be seen by the general public who are familiar with the effects of cannabis as little more than crass anti cannabis rhetoric of the sort pumped out by the drug warriors for years and which cannabis consumers are well used to ignoring. Frankly to even compare the damaging effects of SCRA with cannabis is to devalue the warning in the eyes of those who need to hear it, that should be obvious to professionals.

    As regards the extent of the problem it is clearly not going to be limited to a few children in the north west. On the whole it is not children who buy THCvape, it is adults. The fact that some children have fallen foul of this scam is obviously the tragic visible tip of a very much bigger problem. Indeed the whole point of writing this blog was because I saw it with my own eyes in a totally different part of the country. These were not problematic users, but normal late 20’s and middle aged people typical of cannabis vape consumers, typical indeed of the vast majority of cannabis consumers who never come into contact with drugs help services or the police. These, I argue, are the people you need to reach above all.

    So my point is this warning needs to go to cannabis consumers in ways they can relate to and ways that treat them as intelligent people, you don’t do that by sending it to “schools, NHS staff, local policing teams, drug use support services and children’s services”.

    Incidentally, you may not be aware of the origin of the term “SCRA”, but of you follow the link at the bottom of the blog to my 2012 article you will see it originated here on UKCIA and CLEAR cannabis law reform, in other words from the cannabis law reform campaign, we’ve been going on about it for years. I think you will find cannabis consumers knowledgeable enough to buy THCvape will be able to understand the term “SCRA”. It’s matter of talking up to people, not down to them.

    I will correct the attribution to the Greater Manchester Drug Alert Panel

  3. Mick Hawtin

    This product may be available in the midlands as well. Is there a discreate service available to test vape juice which is sold as thc?

  4. A-S

    Purchased 100ml of “THC concentrate” around the East Midlands. I was sold it with the instructions to dilute 1ml-2ml max into 10ml normal vape liquid.
    To discover after 2 sessions both times where more like when I smoked spice/black mamba/annihilation circa.2007-2009

    The first time causing extreme sickness a blackout effect of sorts requiring 40 mins on the bathroom Floor.

    First effects after vaping this liquid where time breaking into frames like a old movie played on film where every frame was visible and separate. This effect lasted as I ran into the bathroom with intense shaking and sickness.

    Also I’m a 26 year old Male with cannabis tolerance of 1/2 oz to 3/4 oz a week. A larger warning could of been helpful in saving me from this experience.

    Also it was available upto 5L quantity’s.

  5. UKCIA Post author

    I have no experience of using this, but you might like to try it given the problem of SCRAs in vape juice.

    WEDINOS,

    ‘Legal highs, club drugs, designer drugs, new psychoactives…’ Drug markets are changing.
    It can be hard to get accurate information and stay safe. WEDINOS tests substances to give individual users and others rapid
    and accurate information to reduce harms.

Comments are closed.