Weed infused sweets that have been hospitalising UK school children are being made by British DIY drug producers in a “large, fast-growing and unsafe” underground industry, experts have told VICE World News
Last month the Metropolitan Police warned schools in the capital about the dangers of cannabis sweets after several children were taken to hospital in Sutton, south London.
The police’s warning notice featured an image of some “Runtz Gummies” and said that some jelly and gummy bear sweets bought by children were “not what they appeared to be” and were mixed with cannabis.
In October ambulances attended La Sainte Union Catholic School in Highgate, north London after 17 teenage girls became unwell after they ate weed edibles called “Nerds Rope”. Two people, a 41-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman, were arrested for possession of cannabis and child neglect.
Weed sweets in bright packaging that mimic American sweet brands are a staple cannabis product across America. They are sold in legitimate weed stores and also by illegal weed dealers.
But over the last year weed sweets have become popular on the UK black market. At around £15 a pack, the sweets are far cheaper – and more child-friendly – than weed itself. Yet little is known about where they are being made, who is making them and what is actually in them – because they are illegal.
Many of those selling cannabis sweets in Britain claim they are American imports, often tagged as “Cali edibles,” using the country’s partially legalised weed industry as a quality guarantee. Two weed edible dealers we spoke to, one from Liverpool and the other from London, claimed their cannabis gummies were the real deal, shipped over from California.
Kev, 29, who has been selling weed edibles in Liverpool using social media messaging apps over the last year, said: “We’ve had them sent over from Cali, but I’d imagine there’s a lot of fakes going around.” The other dealer, Rob, from south London sells the sweets at £15 for a pack. He insisted that they were from California and “made legally”. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity.
But according to weed industry observers, it makes little financial sense for UK sellers to import Californian made weed edibles, as it is much easier and cheaper to sell fakes.
“Dealers have told me the illegal UK edibles market is still relatively new, but it is large, it’s fast-growing and it’s highly lucrative,” said Mike Power, author of Drugs 2.0: The Web Revolution That's Changing how the World Gets High.
“It’s just a branding exercise to claim that these sweets are Californian,” he added. “Many, if not most of the cannabis sweets being sold in the UK are made in the UK, and sold in fake packaging. Why would dealers take the risk of importing an expensive, finished product, when they can easily make it here, and maximise profits? British edibles are not a safe bet. Because they are not regulated, users have no guarantee on safety, purity or strength,” said Power.
Most edibles are made from cannabis trim, the excess snippings which are normally sold cheaply or thrown away. The profits are good – with a tenfold return on investment in many cases.
Power said 100 grams of cannabis trim worth around £50 can make four grams of cannabis oil containing around 70-80 percent THC, which can then be used to dose sweets that can be sold for £500. There are step-by-step guides on YouTube explaining the process of making your own cannabis sweets. Dealers are buying the packaging on eBay and Amazon.
In July last year West Yorkshire Police busted a clandestine cannabis sweet operation in Bradford. Police said a large amount of sweets, which had been infused with cannabis and packaged as “Nerds Rope”, were recovered after the raid, along with a large quantity of cash, cannabis plants, cooking equipment and professional packaging machines. Seven people were arrested.
“The intelligence-led investigation we conducted today ultimately led us to recovering a significant amount of drugs,” said Inspector Kerry Feathers. “Perhaps even more concerning is the recovery of equipment used to produce sweets laced with drugs.”
Power said that teenagers are highly unlikely to buy cannabis sweets without knowing what they are.
“The idea that little children are innocently or accidentally buying these edibles, and somehow end up too high to move is laughable. These sweets cost £15-£20 a pack, and are not sold in the shops, they are sold by cannabis dealers.
“The reason kids end up wrecked is because that was their precise purchasing intention. But without labelling or proper drugs education, they wolf half a pack down each and end up paranoid and panicking. An oral dose of 10-20mg THC is more than enough for even most adult users.”
Despite labels on packets boasting of high THC levels in sweets, some weed sweets sold in the UK have been found to contain no cannabis at all. Drug testing labs in the UK are rarely sent cannabis edibles. But of the four samples sold as “cannabis gummies” sent to the Welsh Emerging Drugs & Identification of Novel Substances Project (WEDINOS) since 2019, two of them contained THC and two of them did not.
Sweet brands have been ripped off by weed edibles sellers in America for years and have resulted in children becoming ill there too. Veteran weed activist Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion, who sells knock-off Nerds Rope in his black market shop in New Jersey, along with weed, edibles, shrooms, grinders and bongs, said he has seen a steep rise in the popularity of “branded” weed sweets such as Nerds Rope.
“Yes, there are people in California who first started making them, but you know everybody is really stealing the brand. That brand is a lookalike brand of the real candy. Anyone who has the capability of making gummies – that’s all it is, a stretched-out gummy – buys the packaging from Amazon and puts their gummies in there,” said Forchion.
He knows a woman who went from cooking brownies for her friends to putting it in packaging she got online. She went from making “a couple cents to making tens of thousands of dollars a week”. She hired her brother, sister, cousin and neighbour to help out.
The company that makes the original (non-drugged) Nerds Rope, Ferrara Candy Co. is understandably upset its brand is being used to get people high and that children are being hospitalised.
“These products imitate a trusted brand, making it difficult to distinguish between illegitimate, THC-infused product, and legitimate candy,” Sarah Kittel, the Chicago-based company’s vice president told a Philadelphia newspaper in January. “This deception can, and has, led people, including children, to inadvertently consume a drug-laced edible. [We] are in no way associated with these deceptive products.”
Buying cannabis sweets in the UK is a haphazard and risky business, and that is largely due to the fact they are being produced in an unregulated, underground market. So, due to prohibition, the cannabis edibles now being increasingly sold in Britain could have been made anywhere, by anyone and contain anything.
A Facebook company spokesperson said: “Buying or selling drugs on Instagram is strictly against our policies, and we work closely with the police to detect and keep illegal material off our platform."