Synthetic Cannabinoids in Ireland: HSE update
There is a risk of synthetic cannabinoids appearing in herbal (plant material),vape/liquid, edibles sold as THC products in Ireland. As of January 2023, the HSE advise the public that there is a high level of risk associated with THC edibles currently being sold on the drug market in Ireland, as they may not contain THC but instead contain a synthetic cannabinoid.
See our update on synthetic cannabinoids to help you stay informed about the current drug market trends of concern.
What are synthetic cannabinoids?
Since around 2006, ‘legal high’ products containing synthetic cannabinoids have been sold in Europe as ‘herbal smoking mixtures’ and marketed as ‘legal’ replacements for cannabis. These substances would have formally been sold in Head Shops in Ireland labelled as 'Spice', 'Black Mamba' and other commercial brand names.These substances continue to emerge on the drug market despite the closure of Head Shops. More recently, these substances have been appearing in cannabis products throughout Europe without consumer’s knowledge.
The effects of synthetic cannabinoids will be much stronger than that of cannabis and will greatly increase the risks for those who consume.These products do not contain cannabis but are intended to produce similar, more potent effects. However, they should not be confused with cannabis.
Their use has caused many serious poisonings and deaths internationally in recent years. There have also been outbreaks of mass poisonings due to their use.
Find out more about these substances on our site here.
Signs of concern to look out for include
- Feeling dizzy, confusion, abnormal sweating, respiratory issues (difficulty breathing), chest pain/rapid heartbeat, nausea and vomiting, agitation, aggression, psychotic behaviour, hallucinations, delusions,seizures or fits.
- They can also lead to sudden loss of consciousness.
What are the latest developments?
- There has been increased concern throughout Europe regarding the emergence of synthetic cannabinoids following the identification of these substances in hash, weed, vape and in low THC products.
- A number of warnings have been issued in Europe to raise awareness among the general public.
- In December 2020, the Dutch Drug Information and Monitoring Service (DIMs) noted that they had analysed several hash and weed samples since October 2020 that were found to be contaminated with synthetic cannabinoid MDMB-4en-PINACA.Identified samples did not differ in appearance to uncontaminated hash or weed products highlighting that there is no way a person could recognise the difference.
- A total of 12 deaths with a confirmed link to the same substance MDMB-4en-PINACA were reported by Hungary (8), the United Kingdom (3) and Sweden (1) between January 2019 and Auguest 2020.
- A warning was issued by the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland in 2020 and again in April 2021 following the hospitalisation of young people after using cannabis vape products which were described as containing 'Spice'.
- On April 4th news emerged from London where a young woman aged 23 had sadly passed away after consuming an 'edible' sweet sold as cannabis. Inital media reports suggests that this was due to synthetic cannabinoids present in the product. We will update our website and social media when we know more details about this situation and if synthetic cannabinoid exposure is confirmed.
Current warning in Ireland
On the 6th of January 2023, the HSE issued a risk communication on the emergence of synthetic cannabinoids in products sold as THC edibles. A small number of hospitalisations have occurred following the consumption of edible products (Jolly Rancher jellies) during the period of December 2022 in the Tipperary Region. Upon analysis from Forensic Science Ireland, these edible products have been found to contain new and risky substances known as synthetic cannabinoids.
Find out more about this risk communication here
What substances have been previously found in cannabis products in Ireland?
Through Forensic Science Ireland who analyse drug seizures, we are aware of the below substances appearing in Ireland in 2021.
- MDMB-4en-PINACA (29 cases), this substance has been found in plant material, liquid and vape products.
- ADB-BUTINACA (10 cases), this substance has been found in sweets, plant material and liquids.
- 5F-EDMB-PICA (15 cases), this substance has been found in plant material and some sweets.
- 4F-MDMB-BUTINACA (16 cases), this substance has mainly been found in plant material and in some liquids
As shown by FSI synthetic cannabinoids have appeared across a range of products, including sweets.
Risk reduction for people who use cannabis products
- Be aware that these substances could appear in edibles, plant mixture and liquid/vape without you knowing.
- It is always safer not to consume at all. If you fear a substance is contaminated, the safest option is not to use.
- Take less than you normally use, this means adding less, taking a very small amount and leaving time to feel the effects.
- Look for visual signs in herbal products - although examples from EU countries suggest you may not be able to visually identify if the substance contains synthetic cannabinoids.
- Consider the risks if buying from a new or non-trusted source.
- Using alone increases the risks, try to avoid using alone and let someone know.
- If using cannabis edible products, look at the packaging, be aware that there are counterfit products and take a very small amount. Get harm reduction factsheet here.
- If you notice unexpected effects, are concerned regarding your reaction to the substance and suffer from side effects, don't use more and seek medical help if necessary.
- Don't be afraid to get medical help if you or a friend becomes unwell after consuming.
Further information on synthetic cannabinoids in Europe
- Synthetic cannabinoids in Europe – a review
- Warning for dangerous cannabis candy (Sweden)
- 'Cannabis' sweet warning after woman dies in London