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Over 3,000 hospitalisations from cannabinoid use over 5 years – Higgins

Ongoing awareness campaign needed on dangers of cannabis jellies and other products

16th July 2023 - Emer Higgins, TD

An ongoing awareness and education campaign from the HSE is needed on the dangers of cannabis jellies and associated products following an increase in hospitalisations from cannabinoid use, according to Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins.

Deputy Higgins said there are significant health risks associated with synthetic cannabinoids that can appear in some jellies and sweets which are causing increasing concern in Ireland and throughout Europe.

Deputy Higgins said: “Cannabinoids are a group of chemical compounds which can be extracted from the cannabis plant and can be used in oil and edible form.

“The most prominent cannabinoid is referred to as THC, which is responsible for the psychoactive effects commonly associated with cannabis use and results in a euphoric high experienced by users.

“Not all edibles contain natural cannabis elements and can contain a man-made chemical known as synthetic cannabinoids, which are designed to mimic the effect of THC in the body.

“Synthetic cannabinoids can greatly increase the risks of a drug emergency because they produce more intense adverse effects. According to the HSE, their use has caused many serious poisonings, mass poisonings and deaths internationally in recent years,” added Deputy Higgins.

“Separate figures provided to me by the HSE show that since 2018 to 2022, there have been 3,277 hospitalisations for mental and behavioural disorders due to the use of cannabinoids. This was up 50% from 526 in 2018 to 790 hospitalisations in 2021, with this figure dropping slightly to 658 last year.

“In the same timeframe there were 189 hospitalisations for poisoning due to the use of cannabis products.

“The HSE issued a warning to the public about synthetic cannabinoids appearing in cannabis and THC products. This came after a small number of people were hospitalised in Tipperary in December 2022 after ingesting cannabis jellies that were found to contain synthetic cannabinoids.

“Packaging on illegal edibles is often bright and colourful and can be mistaken for ordinary sweets, and in some cases, the packaging can almost replicate a well known existing brand with slight variations.

“What is concerning is how easily these illegal edibles can be obtained as they are available for sale through social media channels through word of mouth or via text message.

“According to the Gardaí, synthetic cannabinoid products are relatively new to the market and they are more potent than THC. The packaging can be labelled as containing THC, but that is not always the case and users may not know what they truly contain or their origin.

“Doctors have expressed concern through media about the link between cannabis edibles and significant associations with psychiatric disease like schizophrenia. They claim the psychotropic effects from eating cannabis can be delayed for hours and users would be inclined to take more as a result which is extremely dangerous.

“Figures also provided to me by Revenue indicate there were almost 1,000 seizures of cannabis edibles from 2018 to the end of May. These products had a combined estimated street value of €264,139.

“Government is acutely aware of the devastating impact that illegal drugs, drug dealing and related criminality have on communities across the country and that is why additional resources being allocated to the Gardai, evidenced by the unprecedented funding of over €2 billion provided in Budget 2023, but I also think that an educational approach is needed.

“These illegal products are relatively new on the market and not much is known about what is contained in them. Therefore it is essential that we have an ongoing HSE education and awareness campaign to alert people to the dangers of these drugs, through social media and also broadcasting channels,” Deputy Higgins concluded.

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