Statement on Synthetic Cannabinoids

We are extremely concerned about the rising prevalence of synthetic cannabis, as well as the apathy coming from the Government in terms of solutions.

Synthetic cannabis is a direct result of the current illegal status of cannabis. Drug dealers are not subject to any quality control checks of their products, nor are they subject to accountability if they do sell contaminated products disguised as cannabis.

Further, these synthetic products are often marketed toward younger or more novice consumers, due to being found in jellies and vapes. This is extremely concerning. We need solutions that effectively displace the illicit cannabis market.

Robust and mindful regulation of cannabis would begin to move the currently dangerous and unpredictable market into a more controlled and observable place, thus making the product substantially more safe.

We are also worried about the monitoring capacity of the current system. We believe that the rates of accidental synthetic cannabis poisoning are underreported, primarily due to lack of awareness on behalf of Gardaí, the healthcare system, and even among cannabis consumers themselves.

We have been unable to find out what % of seized cannabis products are being tested, but we do know they are being tested by Forensics Ireland at least.

In order for us to get a better grasp on the prevalence, and to promote safety, fixed testing facilities for cannabis consumers to test their products would be a great medium-term solution. We would encourage the Department of Health to consider extending the use of drug testing facilities for cannabis consumers to test their substances without fear of prosecution or arrest.

These same products are being found across the EU, as has been noted in a recent report from the EMCDDA. There have been deaths due to these products in the EU, and Ireland was listed as an exceptionally high risk jurisdiction by the agency.

The HSE has also been sounding the alarm on synthetic cannabis for a number of years now, and in the last 12 months the number of alerts have increased. The Government is clearly aware of this problem, and choosing to ignore it is not a policy solution. Further, more enforcement/Gardaí will not help the synthetic cannabis problem.

It is only a matter of time before we experience a synthetic cannabis related death in Ireland, and we are currently seeing a rapid increase in harms, including a number of hospitalisations in recent months.

The Government cannot wait any longer to address this problem, and preparations to get a handle on the current illicit market need to start happening now. We need regulation, legalisation and in the interim more support for drug-testing sites for consumers.