Concerns have been raised about the illegal sale of cannabis edibles online in the United Kingdom.
Various police forces have warned about the products as they not allowed in the UK. They are mostly sold online via TikTok, Facebook Marketplace, and Snapchat and it is not clear where they are produced or by whom.
Edibles can be food products containing the cannabis component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and come in many forms, but mainly jelly sweets. THC has no permitted threshold in European food law. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has previously urged people to be vigilant about the dangers of children consuming cannabis edibles.
In Ireland, at least six children under the age of 10 were hospitalized in 2021 and there have been numerous reports of young people being ill in the UK.
CBD and THC difference
Food Standards Scotland (FSS), Police Scotland and Public Health Scotland voiced concerns about the production and online marketing of cannabis edibles by organized crime groups at an FSS board meeting this past year.
However, Paul Tossell, novel foods and radiological policy team leader at the Food Standards Agency, said the problem was outside the agency’s remit.
“If a product, intended for consumption, contains a controlled substance then it could be a narcotic and as such would not be considered a food, so should be referred to the police,” he said.
The FSA is responsible for regulating cannabidiol (CBD) in novel foods, a chemical in the cannabis plant, but this does not include THC, which is a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The Home Office handles licensing applications from those in England, Wales and Scotland who want to produce, supply, cultivate cannabis plants and import or export controlled drugs. However, the agency does consider the requirements of regulatory bodies such as the FSA and trading standards.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) said it was very concerned about the uncontrolled sale of goods on platforms such as Facebook and other social media.
“So far as the sake of food is concerned these largely unregulated sites are like the Wild West. Items such as cannabis sweets are a concern. If they were being sold in the high street there would be a requirement to declare ingredients, declare the presence of allergens and the name of the manufacturer, so that purchasers and the regulators are informed,” said Julie Barratt, CIEH president.
“As it now is, we as regulators know no more than the public at large. We don’t know where to find the manufacturers or what is being put in these sweets or in what quality. We can’t track down the producers to work with them or to take action against them, and so they continue to flourish.
“Cannabis sweets will clearly appeal to children, but we don’t know how much cannabis is in the sweets, what its purity is and what ‘dose’ is safe and what is not. Those people who want to buy cannabis sweets knowing what they are will do so, but there is a real risk that children will eat them thinking they are simply sweets or that they may be given to people who do not know that they contain cannabis, and who would not want to eat them if they were properly informed.”
Cannabis edibles can be hard to identify as packaging may only vary slightly from legal items. Differences can be the appearance, spelling or poor quality packaging, according to police.
Edibles are stronger than other cannabis products, according to officials. Swallowed cannabis takes longer to have an impact which increases the risk of an overdose. Effects can include a dry mouth, nausea, hallucinations, difficulty breathing and anxiety.
“Is the sale of such products a matter for investigation by the police or by environmental health and trading standards? I suspect both, as drugs are creeping into the food chain, although I’m not aware of any discussions having taken place between the agencies as to who is responsible,” said Barratt.
“If there is a market for cannabis sweets and they are a lawful product we cannot object to them being made and sold, but they should be made in a properly regulated and controlled, environment and be subject to the same safeguards as any other food product. Unfortunately so far as sale of foodstuff on the internet is concerned the legislation is having to run to keep up, and enforcement is always a step behind legislation.”
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