Posted: Thu 8th Feb 2024

Updated: Thu 8th Feb

Health officials warn over vape liquids which could contain ‘spice’ drug

North Wales news and information

Public health officials are warning of the potential health risks from consuming vape liquids containing cannabis, CBD or THCs.

It comes as testing has found some of these liquids contain synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs) – sometimes known as “spice” – a potent synthetic drug. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

The concern comes from WEDINOS, the UK’s only nationwide drug testing service, based in Wales. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

Their latest data shows that out of 196 samples of liquids submitted to them in 2023, 75 contained one or more SCRAs. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

They had all been bought in the belief they were cannabis, CBD or THC e-liquids.

SCRAs are a group of synthetic cannabinoids associated with serious health issues ranging from difficulties breathing to psychotic episodes. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

Experts at WEDINOS are also concerned at the huge rise in the numbers of samples of counterfeit prescription drugs they are receiving which are contaminated by potentially dangerous substances. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

They routinely detect the group of drugs Nitazenes, often within drugs bought in the belief they are prescription medicine like Diazepam and Oxycodone. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

These high potency synthetic opioids can be life threatening and the risk of overdose is high.

Last year, WEDINOS received 90 samples containing Nitazenes, of which nearly 50% were bought in the belief they were Diazepam, the anti-anxiety drug. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

Opioids account for the highest number of individuals admitted to hospital for illicit drugs, followed by cannabinoids, including SCRAs such as spice.

Opioids also remain the substance group most likely to be linked to drug related deaths. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

WEDINOS, supported by the Welsh Government, has been involved in drug testing in the UK for ten years.

It published its first test results in October 2013 for an unknown white powder from Newport which had left a person who used it in hospital.

Since then it’s tested over 33,000 samples from a wide variety of sources across Wales and the wider UK. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

Samples are sent in from a variety of sources, including the general public, substance misuse services, Welsh police forces, accident and emergency departments and prisons. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

In the past decade, demand for the service has continued to grow.

It has identified 641 different substances, many of which were bought in the belief they were another substance entirely.

At one point the service were seeing benzodiazepines being substituted for something else, 71% of the time. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

Professor Rick Lines, Head of Substance Misuse, Public Health Wales said “The increased risk of overdose from high potency drugs shouldn’t be underestimated.

“We are concerned that people may not be getting what they think they are getting, when they buy drugs online. Prescription drugs should only ever be obtained from a GP.

“The risk of fatal overdoses is high from some of the samples we receive, especially when substances are used by those who don’t realise the risks they pose or when they are using them in combination with other substances. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

“The high quality service that WEDINOS has delivered over the past 10 years is crucial to the harm reduction response in Wales and across the UK. We are grateful to those who submit samples, to allow this valuable work to continue.” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

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