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Hundreds of drug dealers are using Instagram to peddle potent cannabis to children in a billion-pound industry, a Daily Mail investigation has found.
The problem on the Facebook-owned site has mushroomed in lockdown, leading to fears of the drug causing a ‘psychosis timebomb’.
A drug baron who bragged about kidnapping and chopping off the fingers of a client is among the dealers using the social media site to earn themselves millions of pounds a year, our undercover reporters found.
Dealers, some with almost 30,000 followers, promote their wares with enticing pictures of cannabis packaged as children’s sweets and then arrange sales via private messaging services.
When contacted on Instagram by Mail reporters posing as a 16-year-old, they were happy to sell, and boasted about ‘mad strains’ that would get them ‘high as f***’. One promised ‘gifts’ if they recruited their classmates as customers.
Products offered included cannabis-laced sweets with the equivalent strength of 50 joints, which police have warned causes ‘substantial harm’. The sweets have led to hundreds of children – some still in primary school – being rushed to hospital with heart palpitations, anxiety attacks, uncontrollable vomiting, paranoia and hallucinations.
Experts told the Mail that drug dealers had now ‘shifted from street corners on to social media’ because of the ease of selling online. Advertising on platforms such as Instagram gives them greater legitimacy and enables them to ‘build a brand and identity’.
One consultant psychiatrist – who welcomed the Mail’s investigation – warned that the high-strength cannabis trade ‘exploded’ during lockdown and was driving young people into ‘psychosis, depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide’.
An estimated 8 per cent of school pupils have used cannabis, leading to almost 13,000 under-18s needing treatment last year, including more than 1,000 aged 13 and younger.
The UK’s illegal cannabis market is valued at between £2-2.6billion. As early as 2014, one in four sales were made online. The proportion is now believed to be far higher.
A mother whose daughter killed herself after suffering from cannabis-induced psychosis fears ‘many more’ youngsters will die because of social media’s growing influence.
Katya Kowalski, of drug harm reduction advocacy group Volteface which has studied online drugs sales, said social media apps had made it much easier for dealers to target young people.
She adde d: ‘They’re able to create more of a community – a friendly mechanism that doesn’t necessarily seem overwhelming or intimidating. One of the key issues, especially with young people, is that drug dealers then almost become friends.
‘The way it is branded makes them look a lot more friendly and approachable – which is a lot different to going down a dark alleyway at night to pick up.’
She said it meant drug dealing had ‘shifted from street corners onto social media’, with platforms like Instagram giving the dealer ‘more legitimacy, allowing them to build a brand and identity’.
Dr Niall Campbell, one of the UK’s leading drug addiction experts based at the Priory’s hospital in south-west London, said: ‘Increasingly young people are able to buy cannabis or other drugs via the internet or social media, which is extremely worrying.
‘The mental health effects can include psychosis, depression, anxiety disorders, self-harm and suicidal behaviours.
‘This cannabis trade has exploded under lockdown, with bored teens spending hours online at home or in university halls of residence, and then in parks or with their mates when lockdown lifted.’
An undercover Mail reporter posing as a 16-year-old contacted a string of Instagram dealers, including London based SpaceshakeUK. It advertises a range of cannabis edibles, such as Lucky Charms and fruit-flavoured gummies marketed with the slogan ‘have you ever been to space?’, to more than 27,000 followers.
The reporter was offered a ‘banging’ strain and told ‘no stress’ when he revealed his age.
Manchester-based Stonechester, which promotes its wares to more than 19,000 followers using videos by high-profile rappers, was happy to offer a teenager a range of high-strength cannabis with names such as ‘Loaded Cannons’ and ‘Jet Fuel’, all of which were available for ‘next day’ delivery.
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