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Cannabis shortage may have caused rise in synthetic cannabinoid use, says report

A new report highlights the public health and social risks posed by synthetic cannabinoids

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Synthetic cannabinoids

A new report by the EMCDDA highlights the public health and social risks posed by synthetic cannabinoids across Europe.

The EU drugs agency, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) warns that synthetic cannabinoids are widely available across Europe and place users at ‘high risk of poisoning.

It notes that the pandemic did nothing to stop or slow the production of these cannabinoids. However, the researchers did note that a cannabis shortage may have led to people trying synthetic cannabinoids. Sometimes products were mislabeled in an attempt to get users to try higher-THC products. Synthetic cannabinoids can be shipped as bulk powders from companies in China to Europe, where they are made into finished products for sale.

The authors wrote: “An increase in reports of cannabis adulterated with synthetic cannabinoids has raised concerns. It is not known what could be driving this development but it could possibly reflect both shortages of cannabis linked to the pandemic or, possibly in some countries, criminal groups exploiting the availability of low-THC cannabis products, which may be difficult to distinguish from cannabis sold on the drug market.”

“Any scenario where people unwittingly consume synthetic cannabinoids is worrying given the toxicity of some of these substances, as illustrated by an outbreak of over 20 deaths related to the synthetic cannabinoid 4F-MDMB-BICA in 2020.”

Lockdown did lead to an increase in home cultivation of cannabis as people were stuck at home experiencing potential shortages. Cannabis remains the most commonly tried drug with 47.6 million men and 30.9 females.

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Speaking with Cannabis Health News, Irish advocate and Master of Law, Natalie O’Regan, BCL, LLM commented on the report: “Synthetic cannabinoids are on the rise across Europe since the early 2000s. Synthetic cannabinoids are relatively low on cost and easily available. Increasingly synthetic cannabinoids are being found in low THC products and reports of this are increasing. Synthetic cannabinoids are far more dangerous than any naturally grown cannabinoids like those found in the cannabis plant.”

She added: “Due to the low cost of synthetic cannabinoids, large scale producers are increasingly adding this to a natural product for sale on the illegal market. The result of this means consumers are being mis-sold a synthetic product as a natural product. There have been many reports of serious side effects from synthetic cannabinoids due to the high level of toxicity. I have received reports myself of seasoned cannabis consumers having serious side effects due to the presence of synthetic cannabinoids.
The rise in synthetic cannabinoids across Europe in my opinion can be linked to prohibition. Cannabis consumers, when they have a choice, would rarely if ever choose a synthetic product over a natural product.”

“Unfortunately, due to the continued cannabis prohibition consumers are often left with no choice but to purchase from the illegal market and gamble with the consequences. If the EU or any other country are serious about reducing the harms of synthetic cannabinoids, the only way is to legalise cannabis and allow people to grow their own. I bet that the incident rate and detection rate of synthetic products would dramatically decrease. The startling report on synthetic cannabinoids and the resulting harms can solely be laid at the feet of those who advocate for continued prohibition.”

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Synthetic cannabinoids: a yellow pot of CBD oil next to a bunch of green cannabis leaves

Increased THC

The report also warned that cannabis resin sold in Europe is now more potent with an increased THC content between 20 and 28 percent. This is almost twice the amount of herbal cannabis. They advise careful monitoring of the increased THC content and changes to cannabis available on the streets.  When it comes to herbal cannabis, they said there were problems posed for the police through the darknet and postal orders.

What are synthetic cannabinoids?

Synthetic cannabinoids are a large group of new psychoactive substances. They were detected in Europe in the mid-200s with names such as ‘spice’ and were sold as legal replacements for cannabis. They were discovered to be dangerous with users accidentally poisoning themselves with large doses.

Synthetic cannabinoids are usually either solid or oils before being added to dried herbs, vegetable matter or plant cuttings to make a material that resembles cannabis and can be smoked. They react with the receptors in the brain much the same way cannabis does however they are usually more potent meaning it’s easier to use too much.

The report highlights that synthetic cannabinoids are still used recreationally but their low cost and intoxicating effects have led to the availability of new products such as vape e-liquids. The use has been shown to be higher in marginalised groups such as high-risk drug users or the homeless and that it can be linked with social problems such as violence or debt.

The report added: ‘In the future, it can be expected that synthetic cannabinoids with high potency, and that are easy to synthesise, will continue to be introduced into the market.’

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US Congresswoman speaks out about how cannabis helped her depression

Nancy Mace spoke out about using cannabis to help her depression after experiencing a traumatic event as a teenager

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Image credit: Nancy Mace/Instagram

A Republican congresswoman who has proposed a federal bill to legalise cannabis has spoken out about her experience using cannabis to combat depression.

Nancy Mace, a republican politician from South Carolina appeared on Fox Business’s ‘Kennedy’ show to talk about the bill which would legalise cannabis but would also focus on veteran access.

It also includes expungement for non-violent cannabis crimes and imposes a revenue tax that would support reinvestment into communities hurt by the war on drugs.

Bill: A banner for always pure organics

The bill titled the States Reform Act would federally legalise and tax cannabis has been proposed ahead of competing Democrat proposed bills. While the bill was originally proposed in July, Mace shared her story after officially filing the State Reform Act in November.

At the end of the discussion, host, Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery asked the congresswoman if she smoked cannabis.

Nancy replied: “When I was 16, I was raped. I was given prescription medication that made the feelings I had of depression worsen, and I stopped taking those prescription drugs and I turned to cannabis for a brief period of time in my life.”

She added that she believed her experience with cannabis made her more sympathetic to veterans who may use cannabis for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Bill protection for veterans

The congresswoman explained that the new bill is “particularity protective of veterans, ensuring they are protected, not discriminated against and that the US Department of Veteran Affairs can utilise cannabis for their PTSD.”

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She added: “When I talk to vets and I see that pain, it hurts because I felt that pain before in my life. Veteran suicide, we see every single day.”

One other provision in the bill is that cannabis would be under the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) instead of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA would have some involvement similar to its current control over the alcohol industry.

Bill history

Mace has already won an exception for rape and incest victims in a fatal fetal heartbeat bill. She mentioned her history when it came to proposing that bill in 2019.

She said: “I’ve had family that have overdosed from hardcore opiates and prescription drugs. And I’ve mentioned part of this in 2019, at the time I got the exception for rape and incest in the fetal-heartbeat bill I told my story about being raped when I was 16, but I’ve never said this part publicly before: I was prescribed antidepressants afterwards, and it made my feelings a lot worse. And so I started using cannabis for a brief moment, for a time in my life. It helped me. It cut down on my anxiety and helped me get through some dark periods.”

 

Fibromyalgia: A banner advert for cannabis health news

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First patient set to receive cannabis products on Ireland’s MCAP programme

CannEpil is the first drug available through the programme but has yet to be prescribed

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Ireland HSE offer medical cannabis
CannEpil was announced as the first drug to be made available through the programme

Earlier this year, the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) has announced that the first cannabis-based products will be available through the Medical Cannabis Access Programme from mid-October.

Despite an update from the Irish health service (HSE) and Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) that CannEpil would be prescribed by the middle of October, the first prescription has been delayed.

People before Profit TD for Dublin Mid-West Gino Kenny tweeted that the first prescription should be available from next week.

The HSE has yet to confirm that the products will be available from next week but says they would not be aware until the consultant neurologist has issued claims at the end of the month.

In a statement to Cannabis Health News, a press officer at the HSE stated: “The HSE has registered three patients under the MCAP in recent days. We would not be aware whether the consultant neurologist has proceeded with prescribing for an individual until claims were submitted from pharmacies at the end of the month.”

He also raised the issue in the Dáil earlier this month to Taoiseach, Michael Martin.

“Many families would have been very joyous during the summer when the medical cannabis access programme was to commence. But sadly, in a PQ response today, not one patient has been given access thus far. That is a huge disappointment to those families that this treatment could make life-changing benefits,” he said.

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“So what do you say to families that feel let down by the program and now they have to look at other treatments and probably getting no treatment at all?” He asked.

Michael Martin replied that a lot of patients have been facilitated by the original ‘imported license’ but he was unsure as to why patients had not availed of the MCAP. He promised to follow up with the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly of Fianna Fáil.

Gino announced changes to the Cannabis Regulation and Control bill that he is due to submit. It will now take place next year with a focus on production and consumption for personal use.

HSE committee meeting

In a joint committee meeting held in September, CannEpil was announced as the first drug to be made available through the program from mid-October.

Ireland’s Health minister Stephen Donnelly announced funding for the Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) in January, almost two years since the legislation was signed off in June 2019.

The programme will offer access to cannabis-based medicines to people living with one of three qualifying conditions. These include intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, severe treatment-resistant epilepsy and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) where patients have failed to respond to authorised treatments.

The meeting saw officials from the Department of Health and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) outline the current state of the MCAP programme and the Ministerial License system.

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The suppliers of two products, CannEpil and Tilray are said to have confirmed their prices to the HSE, but Tilray has yet to announce its availability date.  Two more cannabis-based products have been added to the schedule but suppliers are not thought to have current plans to supply the Irish market.

Morris O’Connor, the assistant national director of primary care reimbursement, announced that two additional products were expected to be added to the schedule in the coming weeks and that the programme may be extended for longer than the initial five year pilot period.

He stated: “There are currently four cannabis products on the schedule and two more to be added to schedule one of the regulations in the coming weeks. I understand that one of the products in the schedule namely CannEpil is expected to be available in October, subsequent to the introduction of the necessary legislation.”

According to Lorraine Nolan the chief executive of HPRA, since the MCAP regulations came into force in June 2019, 34 applications have been made for cannabis-based products.

Of these four cannabis oils have been placed in schedule one of the regulations, and two dry herb products have completed the final HPRA review and are awaiting a ministerial decision. Five are currently under active review.

Nolan commented: “The first cannabis-based products are expected to be made available to Irish patients through MCAP in October 2021. Once these are accessed by Irish patients, the HPRA will receive any reports of suspected adverse events and review them for any signals of concern regarding the safety of the product.

READ MORE  Cannabis consumption by pregnant women increased during pandemic according to new study

“The HPRA will also have a role in investigating any quality issues that may arise and coordinate any action that might be subsequently required.”

Doctors are asked to register patients who may benefit from this treatment to the HSE including the condition they are being prescribed for.

The HPRA will be monitoring patients for adverse effects over the coming weeks once the medication is available.

The MCAP programme has been criticised by patients who are still waiting for access to products despite the introduction of the scheme in 2019 under then Minister for Health, Simon Harris.

O’Conner also highlighted that 192 ministerial licenses have already been issued for 67 individuals who access medication from the Netherlands.

In July a direct funding scheme was announced to remove the need for patients to pay for these prescriptions up front and then apply for reimbursement from the Government.

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Irish politicians receive cannabis in mail to mark National Legalise Cannabis day

The letters outlined the reasons why legalising cannabis in Ireland needs to be a top priority for government officials.

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Irish: A banner advert for National Legalise cannabis day

Two hundred Irish TDs received a letter outlining the reasons for cannabis legalisation and a roll-up in the post sparking an investigation

The cannabis was sent by An Póst by leading cannabis activists to mark National Legalise Cannabis Day in Ireland. The cannabis was accompanied by a letter outlining ten reasons why cannabis should be legalised and made accessible. Cannabis activists including Cannabis Activist Alliance, ReLeaf CBD Café, and Martin Condon from the podcast Martin’s World shared images of the letters online before sending them to ministers.

Two hundred letters containing cannabis roll-ups and edibles were sent to ministers including the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins. A further forty were sent to members of the media and senators. Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein was even sent a tricolour roll-up.

In a statement online, those involved encouraged other cannabis consumers and activists to get involved in the action.

“To mark the 20th anniversary of this event the Martins World Podcast, The Cannabis Activist Alliance and the ReLeaf Cafe have teamed up to recreate this event. Cannabis containing joints will again be posted to every TD and Senator in Ireland. With the joint, we will include a letter about the campaign and 10 reasons why Cannabis prohibition should be ended (there are thousands to choose from). We encourage anyone who wants to get involved to do so. It will only cost you the price of a stamp and envelope.”

Some of the benefits listed in the letters included the creation of jobs, open access for patients and researchers, the end to the discrimination faced by patients and also the protection of minors with the introduction of regulation.

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Irish cannabis market

While the letter highlighted the reasons why cannabis should be legalised in Ireland, it also gave a stern warning about the dangers of buying cannabis from an unregulated market.

“As this product was sourced from an unregulated market, you as a consumer have very little protection. There is no guarantee that this joint contains any cannabis. If it does contain cannabis you as a consumer have no idea as to the potency of the cannabis. This makes dosing incredibly difficult and could put you at risk.”

The action has sparked an investigation by Irish authorities after scanners at the ministerial buildings failed to recognise the substance. It was reported that nearly all of the Green party received a letter along with members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Irish ministers response

Most of the ministers have not confirmed if they have or have not received the letters. However, Cathal Crowe, a Fianna Fáil TD for Clare posted a photo of the letter on Twitter confirming he had received one.

Irish Green party councillor, Oliver Moran also received a letter and tweeted his response. “Many thanks for including me in this action—and for the prudent warning that potency and content are unknown when drugs are purchased from an underground market.”

November 5 was declared  National Legalise Cannabis Day by Independent TD, Luke Ming Flanagan back in 2001. The letters campaign was created to mark the 20th anniversary of this.

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Ireland’s cannabis reform

The campaign comes amidst criticism that the Medical Cannabis Access Programme is still not functioning despite reassurances that Cannephil would be available from mid-October.

People before Profit TD for Dublin Mid-West, Gino Kenny raised the issue in the Dáil to Taoiseach, Michael Martin.

“Many families would have been very joyous during the summer when the medical cannabis access programme was to commence. But sadly, in a PQ response today, not one patient has been given access thus far. That is a huge disappointment to those families that this treatment could make life-changing benefits,” he said.

He added: “So what do you say to families that feel let down by the program and now they have to look at other treatments and probably getting no treatment at all?”

Michael Martin replied by saying that a lot of patients have been facilitated by the original ‘imported license’ but was unsure as to why patients had not availed of the MCAP. He promised to follow up with the Minister for Health which is currently Stephen Donnelly of Fianna Fáil.

Gino also announced changes to the Cannabis Regulation and Control bill that he is due to submit. It will now take place next year with a focus on production and consumption for personal use.

Image credit : Martin’sWorld

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