“Our concern is that there is no illicit substance that can be considered safe because you have no guarantee what’s in it”
This week two boys aged three and four were hospitalised after they consumed cannabis jellies which they believed were just normal sweets in a hostel in in north Dublin.
The jellies did not belong to the children’s parents but to another resident of the hostel.
The incident came days after gardai issued warning about the prevalence of cannabis jellies in Ireland while last month the Food Safety Authority of Ireland also issued warning about the illicit products.
Michael Guerin, a senior clinical psychologist at Cuan Mhuire addiction treatment, told the Sunday World that the jellies which are packaged to look like well-known brands have been on the rise particularly over the last year.
“It’s no surprise to us that cannabis infused jellies would end up in the news. Sadly, it’s because two children were taken ill which obviously we’re very sorry to hear.
“Service users have been telling us for some time about the existence of jellies infused with THC which is the psychoactive component of grown cannabis plants but also infused with synthetic cannabis which is also known as K2 or Spice.”
He said as well the obvious concerns about children taking them he also has concerns people will take what they think are cannabis jellies but will contain other substances.
“Our concern in that regard is that there is no illicit substance that can be considered safe because you have no guarantee what’s in it.
“I suppose our concern is that at some point in the future something that looks as innocent as a jelly baby will be imported into this country and consumed by somebody who thinks it has THC but contains something far more sinister.”
He said he had no doubt the technology was there to put all manner of illicit substances in jellies and sweets.
“There have been plenty of documented cases of hospitalisations and deaths in Ireland where people took something believing it to be one thing and it ending up being something else entirely.
“That situation sadly and unfortunately will repeat itself in future.
“The takeaway message for people is there is no such thing as a safe, quality assured, illicit substance.”
He said the design of cannabis jellies reminds him of alcopops which became extremely popular with young people in the 1990s.
“When alcopops were introduced in Ireland and there was a furore. There must be a reason people are making alcoholic drinks that taste like lemonade. The presentation of the entire product was very conducive to young people partaking in it.
“You can only assume the cannabis jelly sweets are of a similar thing. Those children that became ill because of the cannabis jellies were attracted to them obviously because they though they were normal jellies.
“It’s the same way as alcopops are seen as being appealing to a young audience you couldn’t but think cannabis jellies are being made to appeal to a younger audience.”
The jellies have grown in popularity in recent years particularly after several U.S. states legalized non-medicinal cannabis use.
Gardai do not collate specific figures for cannabis jelly seizures as they are included in the overall THC figures but seizures are on the rise in Ireland in recent times with gardai in various parts of the country issuing warnings about them.
Last month the Food Safety Authority of Ireland also issued a warning about the jellies after a teenager required hospitalisation after consuming some.
Two weeks ago three children in the UK suffered a “violent reaction” after consuming what they believed were cannabis jellies.
The two boys, aged 12 and 13, and one girl, aged 12, were left vomiting uncontrollably and falling in and out of consciousness after consuming the jellies in Surrey in England.
Surrey police issued a public warning about the jellies afterwards.
Michael Guerin said it was not just cannabis jellies that were enticing young people into drug use.
“The age of first use amongst poly substance users has fallen dramatically in the last three or four years and I mean dramatically. You are getting young people in their early 20s coming into us now and saying they consumed cocaine for the first time at 13 or 14 years of age.”
He said cocaine has now joined alcohol and cannabis as one of the first drugs young people try.
“Cocaine is now one of the drugs that chemically dependent people can reflect back and say we experimented with this in the early days.”
Michael said that there has never been a proper education and prevention strategy in place in Ireland and that should happen as part of a multi-faceted approach to dealing with the drug problem here.
He added that criminalising drug users was not working.
“There is also the argument that the longer this goes on the more it is being reinforced that taking drug use and drug possession through the criminal justice system clearly isn’t working.
“We might be better off looking towards decriminalisation more so than we have done.”