Cannabis jellies are now so prevalent in some secondary schools that principals have written to parents to warn them about the emergence of the drugs, sold in the form of sweets.
A taskforce has now been established to detect and stop the import and sale of cannabis edibles, a senior garda confirmed.
Representatives from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), An Garda Síochána, the HSE, Revenue, and Customs have been assigned to the new taskforce to examine this emerging drug trend.
The taskforce held its first meeting less that a fortnight ago.
Just last month, two young boys aged three and four were treated in Temple Street hospital after eating cannabis jellies. This incident followed an increasing number of children and teens presenting at hospitals after eating sweets laced with cannabis.
Dr Pat O’Mahony, a scientist with the FSAI and a member of the new taskforce, said the availability of cannabis jellies in schools was of “major concern”.
“Cannabis jellies are widely available in some secondary schools in Dublin. That’s a real worry. Some schools in Dublin have already taken proactive action and written to parents warning them. This is a matter of serious concern. I will be suggesting a memo to the Department of Education to warn all educators,” he said.
A senior garda also told the Sunday Independent the force has identified an “increase in the prevalence of edible cannabis products”.
Detective Chief Superintendent Angela Willis, of the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (DOCB), said this weekend: “The Garda Síochána through the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau are participating in multi-agency collaboration regarding an increase identified in the prevalence of cannabis edible products.”
While cannabis edibles look and taste like sweets, they can contain significant levels of the psychotropic drug THC.
The taskforce intends to send some of the seized edibles for analysis to determine the exact levels of THC in the sweets seized by garda and Customs officers.
“There is a lot we still don’t know,” said Dr O’Mahony. “The next step is for some of the seized edibles to be sent for further analysis. What we do know is they are being imported, and this is a problem that can only get worse. It is drug trafficking in the food system. It’s brand new to us, and we’re trying to get a handle on it.”
Revenue officials said seizures of cannabis products have almost tripled between 2019 and 2020 — from 515kg (€10m worth) to 1,439kg (€28.6m worth).
While the Revenue did not have a breakdown for edibles, it said the “vast majority” of detections were made by anti-smuggling teams in postal depots.
Dr O’Mahony said there were two types of cannabis edibles being imported into Ireland, and many are being delivered straight to people’s doors.
“Some of these jellies seized are coming from North America, where they are legally sold. They are not legal here of course — but people are ordering them on the internet,” he said.
“It clearly states on the packaging what they are, how much THC is contained and that it is only safe to take one at a time — and other warnings.
“But there are other cannabis edibles coming into the country that look like normal jellies.
“There is nothing to suggest that they are cannabis jellies, but they are laced with THC,” he explained.
The scientist said the taskforce was now trying to establish if criminals were making their own jellies containing THC, or if they were they “hijacking and injecting” sweets with illegal psychotropic drugs.
“The next step is to have some of these products analysed thoroughly at a specialist laboratory.
“Teenagers and children have been hospitalised with adverse reactions to cannabis jellies — because they are eating several sweets, not realising their potency.”