- 10 Apr 07
As part of a scam to exaggerate the weight of the cannabis they sell, ruthless Irish criminals are lacing their wares with pieces of glass – thereby putting the health of consumers at serious risk.
One major argument deployed by those who favour the decriminalisation of cannabis is that prohibition does more harm than good. They have a very good point.
When drugs are banned, the market falls into the hands of unscrupulous dealers, who will cut substances with potentially lethal filler materials, to bulk out the product and increase profits. By this stage, users expect pills and powder to contain impurities – but few suspected that herbal cannabis could be turned into a toxic time bomb.
However, the criminals controlling the drugs market have come up with a nefariously ingenious method of increasing the weight of herbal cannabis: they are spraying it with glass particles. Intended for use in reflective road-markings, the tiny beads of glass are all but invisible to the naked eye, but serious ill-effects have been reported by cannabis smokers unfortunate enough to consume ‘glass grass’.
The immediate symptoms include a tight chest, severe shortness of breath, bouts of coughing (including coughing up blood or mucus), mouth ulcers, and a sore throat and/or neck.
The first reports of what has been termed ‘grit weed’ came from England, late in 2006. The contaminated cannabis has since been found across the UK, and throughout Ireland, north and south, as well as around Europe, from France to Luxembourg, via Germany. In short, grit weed is now a Europe-wide phenomenon and represents an appalling menace to the health of the millions of people who consume the drug across the continent.
One after another, horrified tokers have logged onto activist forums to seek information on the possible effects of inhaling micro particles of glass. The major fear revolved around silicosis, which is a fatal condition similar to asbestosis.
Fortunately, it seems that the glass particles are too big to become lodged in the lungs – though there is no way of quantifying the health impact of smoking glass, simply because nobody has ever commissioned a study into the long-term effects of massive glass inhalation.
MOUTH FULL OF GLASS
Concerned cannabis consumers began contacting the British authorities about the issue in the October 2006; in January 2007, the British Department of Health was finally moved to issue an urgent warning to all health practitioners in the UK concerning the contamination. They advised medical professionals that “laboratory testing has confirmed a number of cases from a number of different parts of the country, in which cannabis appears to contain microscopic particles of glass”.
It dryly noted that “whilst the exact potential health harm from this contamination is not yet fully determined, inhaling hot glass into the mouth, throat, or into the lungs should clearly be avoided”. It warned cannabis smokers to be alert to the risk, to cease buying or selling any product which was contaminated, and to seek medical attention if they experienced any untoward symptoms following consumption of cannabis.
Rather typically, the Irish authorities have been slower to react. The Health Service Executive (HSE) has been aware of the issue since January, but only issued a public notice last week, following enquiries from Hot Press. A spokesperson for the HSE explained that the delay was due to “ongoing discussion at European level regarding the requirement for individual countries to issue a public health notice”. The statement added that “HSE Population Health has been monitoring the situation in Ireland continuously and is still not aware of any reported serious illnesses as a result of consuming contaminated cannabis”. The HSE says it will continue to monitor the situation and will issue further statements as necessary.
At this point, sober readers may wonder how cannabis smokers could be stupid enough to smoke glass. Perhaps some more adventurous readers, who may or may not be sparking up a grass joint right now, smugly assume that they would know better. But the bottom line is that, unless you grew cannabis yourself, or personally know the person who did, there are no reassurances available.
The prevalence of the adulterated weed is such that if you have bought herbal cannabis in Ireland in the past six months, you can almost be certain that you have smoked the dreaded grit weed. To smokers, the glass grass looks like a top quality product, as the foreign particles resemble the THC crystals whose abundance is an indicator of strength. There is nothing unusual about the smell or taste of the contaminated cannabis. The only thing which distinguishes it from organic herbal cannabis is that you end up with a mouth full of glass particles after smoking it.
Even at this point, smokers would not necessarily be unduly alarmed, simply assuming that the crunchy particles were THC crystals. Ironically, the distinct aftertaste probably enhanced the reputation of grit weed on the street.
SERIOUS ILLNESS OR DEATH
Once you know what you’re looking for, though, ‘grit weed’ is easy to spot, and British activists have devised a couple of simple tests for smokers to apply to their weed. Grind a tiny amount of suspect leaf between your teeth (if it’s crunchy, it’s glass). Alternatively, rub it on a CD or glass and watch out for tell-tale friction and scratching.
Though worried (some might venture paranoid) smokers have proposed some outlandish theories in their attempt to explain this terrifying turn of events, including the suggestion that it may be part of a chemical warfare bid by Islamic extremists, the obvious motivation is plain, old fashioned greed. By spraying crops with glass particles, the weight can be doubled.
The only surprising thing about this contamination is that it hadn’t happened earlier. After all, Irish and British smokers have been smoking crap for years, primarily in the form of low grade resin from Morocco, termed ‘soapbar’ hash. Ireland’s prevalent variety of cannabis is notoriously impure, and a 2002 analysis of soapbar seized by British customs, revealed little or no cannabis; instead the resin was found to contain soil, boot polish, beeswax, coffee, motor oils, vinyl, and other drugs like ketamine, glue, aspirin, toluene and benzine. It is likely that the intoxication many Irish people associate with cannabis is actually a glue or ketamine high.
With glass in the grass and damn near everything else in the hash, some may turn to ‘polm’ as a safe alternative. Pressed sheets of hashish imported from the Netherlands, polm is the third most prevalent form of cannabis in Ireland. Unfortunately, it has also become a health hazard. As an associate at Leiden University in the Netherlands explains, the weed is sprayed with the contaminant one week before harvest; it is then shaken and filtered, and the powder by-product is pressed into bars, which are sold as polm. In practice, this means that the Irish market in cannabis is now entirely unsafe for consumers.
Sadly, it seems that grit weed, like soapbar hash, is here to stay. Even if the glass beads disappear, contamination is now a widespread risk with herbal cannabis. If it’s not glass, it will be sand. In North Dublin, criminal gangs are now routinely sandblasting their herbal cannabis in order to increase weight and, thus, their profits. Given that the raw product is already contaminated with glass, this amounts to heaping insult on injury.
Cannabis activists are hoping that, with increasing attention, users and dealers will become more aware of the danger and will stop buying and selling the contaminated product. This surely amounts to hopeless optimism. Hundreds of thousands of Irish people are happy to smoke soapbar hash, even though its impurity is well known. Perhaps they will only believe it when we start to see the casualties of decades of diesel, vinyl and glue inhalation; similarly, it may take serious illness or death before the dangers of smoking glass become undeniably apparent to the ignorant, reckless or self-deluded people who continue to smoke grit weed today.
Meanwhile, health conscious cannabis smokers can have little option but to keep off the grass.