Cannabis sweets ‘marketed at children’ being widely sold on social media | UK News

Cannabis candies packaged to look like bags of Haribo and Skittles are being sold and promoted on social media sites like Instagram and Tik Tok, Sky News has found out.

This screenshot shows a merchant’s channel on Telegram promoting a large number of cannabis candies in colorful, fake-branded bags.

Police say the packaging makes them attractive to children, and at least six have been hospitalized after eating cannabis candies. One child was only eight.

There are also concerns that drugs are being used to lure children into the drug trade by gangs based in major cities but using youth to supply and sell drugs to consumers in urban and rural areas. Police in the east of England say a third of those arrested in connection with cannabis edibles are under the age of 18.

The candy is routinely promoted and sold alongside Class A drugs such as heroin, cocaine and LSD, as well as large quantities of marijuana.

A Telegram channel posted images of large bags of marijuana over boxes of jelly beans and leaves of the Class A drug LSD
A Telegram channel posted images of large bags of marijuana over boxes of jelly beans and leaves of the Class A drug LSD

The retailers found by Sky News operate openly on the five most popular social media sites: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat. They also use messaging services Whatsapp and Telegram, with the latter being the most popular platform for traders to provide prices and trigger sales.

The story came to light after a retailer added a Sky News journalist to an Instagram account selling cannabis candy.

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The candies are known as gummy bears and have no connection to the legitimate brands mentioned on some packaging.

Some products using CBD, a chemical found in cannabis, are legally sold in stores across the country, but these candies are illegal and contain high levels of THC — the chemical that gives a user a high.

Many appear to have been brought to the UK from California, which has different drug laws.

Some of the cannabis candies on offer are homemade
Some vendors add the illegal substances to the candy themselves

Some seem to be homemade though.

Bulk orders are encouraged, and merchants offer discounts on bulk orders of gum and harder drugs.

This seller promotes Class A drugs like heroin and offers volume discounts on other hard drugs while also selling "gummy candies"  elsewhere in the canal.  The chat appears under searches for
This seller promotes Class A drugs like heroin and offers bulk discounts on other hard drugs, while also offering “gummy candies” elsewhere in the channel. The chat will appear under the search for “uk gummies”. Image: Telegram

If you search for the word ‘gummies’ on Telegram you will see many groups where the sweets can be bought for as little as £5. One group has 62,000 subscribers and two others have nearly 30,000 and 16,000 subscribers respectively.

Entering the word ‘edibles’ on Facebook Marketplace in the UK resulted in items containing drugs. About a third of the first 40 results were promoted with cannabis.

Those who searched “gummies uk” on TikTok saw results mostly showing legal sweets, but the app offers suggestions directing users to sweets offered by retailers.

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These suggestions include searching “how to get ediblegummies uk” and “telegrampluguk” (plug is a term for a retailer or someone who can connect you to a retailer) and “gummies with htc uk” (htc is a spelling variant of THC ).

Search queries suggested by TikTok directed users to other drug content.  Image: Tiktok
Search queries suggested by TikTok referred users to other drug content. Image: Tiktok

A network of merchants appears to be operating on some of the social sites. For example, if you look at the accounts that are following or being followed by a seller on Instagram, you can discover more sellers.

Cannabis sweets are a problem for police forces across the UK. Almost all police forces in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have had a problem with sweets in their area and 80% have made a statement or confirmed this to Sky News.

A retailer's Instagram page
A retailer’s Instagram page

The Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) has a unit that manages the serious and organized crime threat across eastern England, covering Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and Essex.

Information from ERSOU, shared with Sky News, suggests that boys and girls under the age of 18 use cannabis edibles, mostly those of secondary school age.

A third of those arrested in connection with cannabis edibles in the Eastern Region are under the age of 18.

The likeness of some big brands is used by retailers to market their edibles
The likeness of some big brands is used by retailers to market their edibles

ERSOU Detective Chief Inspector Rob Burns says edible cannabis products are illegal and have side effects such as unconsciousness.

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He said: “The way they are branded to look like candy suggests they are being marketed to children, but worryingly also means they could easily fall into the wrong hands.

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“We also know that gangs involved in county lines will use a range of tactics to target vulnerable young people and reports suggest that social media is being used to promote the sale of edible cannabis products in order to potentially targeting younger people using multiple social media platforms.”

He added that anyone with information about the sale of these items or believes a child is being exploited to sell them should contact police.

The social media companies mentioned in this article all told Sky News that they have strict policies prohibiting the buying or selling of drugs, including candy containing THC. They say they are actively monitoring this issue on their platforms, using a mix of technology and humans to review content.

Meta, which owns Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp, said it proactively removed 98% of that content last quarter and worked with police and youth organizations to improve their moderation.

Accounts selling gummies were also found on Twitter
Accounts selling gummies were also found on Twitter

Most of the accounts and search terms reported during the Sky News investigation have now been suspended.

The companies behind the candy and snacks, whose trademarks are being copied by drugmakers, have previously opposed the look-a-like packaging and taken some legal action.

Sky News has redacted the names of the accounts so as not to advertise to the sellers.

That data and forensics team is a multi-skilled entity dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We collect, analyze and visualize data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite imagery, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling, we want to better explain the world while showing how our journalism is done.

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