Several children have been rushed to hospital after collapsing in school from vaping fake cannabis oil laced with the dangerous drug Spice.
Kids as young as 12 are being targeted by Snapchat drug dealers in schools across Greater Manchester, experts have warned.
There have been several reports of pupils in the region collapsing and being hospitalised after inadvertently vaping the potentially deadly synthetic drug.
Researchers for the Greater Manchester Testing and Research on Emergent and New Drugs report, which was published this month, were told 10ml bottles of e-liquids supposed to contain THC, the chemical that causes a high, were being sold on Snapchat for as little as £10.
Genuine cannabis oil products often sell for between £40 to £60.
But when two THC e-liquids connected to the hospitalisation of children in Trafford and Bury were tested neither contained any cannabis product, but both were found to contain synthetic cannabinoids used to make Spice.
The report says a 15-year-old boy from Trafford was hospitalised and on one occasion three children were taken to hospital by ambulance after collapsing at a Rochdale school after vaping supposed cannabis oil.
The school’s headteacher told the report: “We had to have them blue lighted to hospital at the time.
“So I knew, when these kids were collapsing, I knew obviously something was wrong and I knew that they couldn’t just be taking something that they thought that they bought from a shop that’s supposedly had cannabis in or something like that.”
A health service manager in Oldham told the report: “There has been [an] increase in referrals stating vape use.
“We have seen an increase in A&E attendances that states ‘vape unknown substance’ symptoms that suggest they have vaped Spice.”
The report found that while use of cannabis vapes among children was still low, the ‘availability and use’ was expanding across Greater Manchester.
A specialist nurse who works in North East of Greater Manchester said: “We have seen an increase in vapes in the last 12 months. Vapes containing THC, synthetic cannabinoids, CBD… the young people don’t know or understand what is in them, but they have caused extreme intoxication or collapse.
“It’s not huge numbers [involving vapes], 26 out of 270, but that’s 26 we had not been previously seeing in a year before.”
There were some reports of kids as young as 12 and 13 smoking cannabis vapes, but it was said to be most common among 15-16-year-olds.
One headteacher in Rochdale told the report: “It was the upper age range in secondary school, so from Year 9 onwards, 14-16 [year-olds] . . .. we’ve found that it’s popular in the upper range, especially because it’s not seen as cannabis, it’s not seen as smoking.”
In 2019 more than a dozen children at schools in Bury, Rochdale and Oldham collapsed after vaping fake cannabis oil which contained spice.
Authorities issued a warning after testing bottles of oil used by the children.
But the report said confirmation that the oils contained spice was helping dissuade youngsters from trying it.
One teacher told the report: “The children at school, if you said they were taking Spice, they’d associate Spice with people that they saw in Manchester.
“So, there is that, what’s the word, ‘disdain’ I suppose for Spice as a drug in itself.
“But actually, what they were taking obviously had Spice in it. So, we’ve done a lot of work around that with the kids to make them understand that what they’re purchasing may be laced with other things.”
The GM Trends report said the sale of the sale of cannabis vapes of social media, usually SnapChat, was a ‘particular concern’.
It added: “Young school aged children who appear to be targeted via social media may be less knowledgeable and hence more susceptible to being mis-sold vapes that testing has established contain Spice.”
In its recommendations the report there was a need to tackle ‘digital drug markets’ and called for ‘awareness raising for those working with young people and their families regarding the increased use of social media apps to sell drugs that often target young people’.
A spokesperson for Snap, the company which owns Snapchat, said: “Using Snapchat to buy or sell drugs is strictly against our rules.
“We actively look for and ban accounts and search terms associated with drug dealing and use industry leading technology to find drug content.
“We also partner with organisations like Frank to provide in-app information about the danger of drugs.
“Snapchat is private by default – you must accept someone before they can message you, and we add extra protections for younger users to stop strangers contacting them.
“There will always be people who try to evade our rules, that’s why tackling this behaviour continues to be a priority.”
Bev Hughes, d eputy mayor for policing, crime and criminal justice, said: “Greater Manchester is leading the way and the GM TRENDS research is the first of its kind in the UK. This approach helps us to understand drug trends across the city-region and raise awareness of potential risks.
“The recommendations made in the report are intended to inform policy making, protect people and support professionals working with people who use drugs.
“We will continue to work with partners on the recommendations made in the report, with targeted work such as Operation Cranium helping to prevent the use and sale of counterfeit medication. I receive regular updates from GMP and know officers are working hard to stamp out the illicit sale of drugs.”