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Cannabis getting stronger with synthetic versions added leading to psychosis, report warns

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Herbal cannabis on the Irish market is getting stronger and stronger, with synthetic versions of the drug also being added without users’ knowledge, in come cases resulting in psychosis, a report has warned.

Drug addiction services have reported a high level of health problems among users of cannabis products.

In total, 71pc of services which took part in a recent survey said their users experienced negative health outcomes after using cannabinoid products within a three-month period.

23 drug services took part in the, Q1 2022, Cannabinoid Market Survey which was carried out by the HSE and the National Voluntary Drug and Alcohol Sector.

The aim of the survey is to identify if services currently have concerns regarding the cannabinoid products available on the Irish market, based on reports from their service user populations.

Of those reporting that service users became unwell following cannabinoid use, all stated that users became mentally unwell with symptoms including “anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, psychosis”.

Some 58pc of services reported that people experienced behavioural concerns, such as “violence”, 47pc reported acts of “self-harm or suicidal ideation” and 40pc reported that people had become “physically unwell”, while 13pc of services documented that their users were admitted to hospital.

When asked what products led to service users having a negative reaction, eight services stated "weed”, three reported “edibles”, two reported “synthetic cannabinoids” and in three cases, different substances were referenced as part of a poly-drug pattern. These substances included nitrous oxide, cocaine and benzodiazepines.

Of the 22 centres who responded to the question on the types of products being consumed, all reported the use of herbal products such as “hash and weed”, 12 services reported the use of edible cannabinoid products, 10 reported the use of CBD from high-street shops, nine said THC vapes and six centres reported on the use of oils which were not obtained from high-street shops.

The report found that some centres felt synthetic cannabinoids may be appearing in “weed/herbal” and “edible” products without the users’ knowledge. One service raised concern on the current quality of products and stated that service users do not want to buy synthetic products. “If it's the real thing or a substitute in general users are mainly not interested in synthetic cannabinoids,” the service stated.

When asked about the profile of the user group choosing to use synthetic cannabinoids, seven services felt that use was associated with younger service user groups.

“Younger service users tend to experiment with synthetic cannabinoids but only if getting a good price, once educated about synthetic cannabinoids [they] tend to move away from use through concerns about getting cannabis that has been sprayed with toxins, etc obviously no quality control,” the report states.

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“The numbers of service users who report cannabinoids as a primary drug of choice remain relatively stable at around 30pc, with the drug being consumed by 60pc of service users as either drug of choice one, two, three or four.”

The report also found that service users felt “weed is getting stronger and stronger” and synthetic sprays are being used to enhance strength and are “resulting in psychosis”.

It also found there was an increase in the consumption of edibles “due to easy access” and that “spice” (synthetic cannabis) has caused mental health issues for habitual users and some have been admitted to acute mental health hospitals.

"It keeps getting stronger and some do not know the differences so it increases the risk of harms. Cannabis use is widespread and commonplace, synthetic cannabinoids in general are not what service users want. In general, I find that that smoking is still the preferred method or to heat vapes,” one service said.

The HSE and the National Voluntary Drug and Alcohol Sector added: “The findings from this survey show emerging concern in some areas and the need for analytical drug monitoring to identify the presence of synthetic cannabinoids. Further, the area of new psychoactive substances and young people requires further consideration and research in Ireland.”


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