Cannabis sweets packaged to look like bags of Haribo and Skittles are being widely sold and promoted on mainstream social media sites such as Instagram and Tik Tok, Sky News has found.
This screen recording shows one dealer’s channel on Telegram advertising a large number of cannabis sweets in brightly coloured bags with faked branding.
Police warn the drugs’ fake packaging makes them attractive to children. At least six children were taken to hospital after eating cannabis sweets, with one as young as eight years old.
There are also concerns the drugs are used to lure children into trafficking drugs through a system known as county lines, with police forces in the east of England reporting a third of people arrested in relation to cannabis edibles are under the age of 18.
The cannabis sweets are routinely promoted and sold alongside class A drugs including heroin, cocaine and LSD, as well as large quantities of marijuana.
Sky News found dealers are operating openly on all of the UK’s five most popular social media sites: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat. They are also using the messaging services Whatsapp and Telegram, with this second app appearing to be the most popular platform for dealers to provide prices and initiate sales.
The story came to light after one dealer added a Sky News journalist on Instagram to an account selling cannabis sweets.
The cannabis sweets are known as “gummies” and are in no way associated with the household name brands that are referenced on some of the packagings.
While some products using CBD, a chemical found in cannabis, are currently on sale in shops across the country, these sweets are illegal and contain high levels of THC – which is the chemical in weed that gives a user “a high”.
Many appear to have been brought into the UK from California, where marijuana laws are different.
Some of the cannabis sweets on sale are homemade
Ordering in bulk is encouraged, with dealers offering discounts on larger orders of both gummy sweets and harder drugs.
Searching on Telegram for just the word “gummies” brings up multiple groups where the sweets can be bought for as little as £5. One group has 62,000 subscribers, while two others have almost 30,000 and 16,000 subscribers each.
Typing in the word “edibles” on Facebook marketplace in the UK resulted brought up items containing drugs. Around a third of the first 40 results were advertised as containing cannabis.
Those looking for “gummies uk” on TikTok were shown results mostly showing legal sweets but the app offers suggestions that point users to sweets offered by dealers.
These suggestions include searching “how to get ediblegummies uk” and “telegrampluguk” (plug being a term for a dealer or someone who can connect you to a dealer) and “gummies with htc uk” (htc being a spelling variation of THC).
A network of dealers appears to be operating on some of the social sites. For example on Instagram, looking at the accounts following or being followed by a seller leads you to 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 an issue with the sweets in their area, with 80% issuing a statement or confirming this to Sky News.
The Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) has a unit which manages the threat of serious and organised crime across eastern England and covers Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and Essex.
Intelligence from ERSOU shared exclusively with Sky News suggests both boys and girls under 18 are consuming cannabis edibles, primarily those of secondary school age.
A third of those arrested in relation to cannabis edibles in the eastern region are under the age of 18.
The likeness of some big name brands are used by dealers to market their edibles
Detective Chief Inspector Rob Burns, from ERSOU, warns that cannabis edibles are illegal and have side effects, such as loss of consciousness.
He said: “The way they are branded to look like sweets suggests they are being marketed at children, but worryingly also means that they could easily fall into the wrong hands.
“We also know that gangs involved in county lines will use an array of tactics to target vulnerable young people, and reporting suggests social media is used to advertise the sale of cannabis edibles, potentially to appeal to younger people who are using multiple social media platforms.”
He added that anyone with information on the sale of these items or who thinks a child is being exploited to sell them should contact their local police force right away.
The social media companies mentioned in this article all told Sky News they have strict policies prohibiting the buying or selling of any drugs, including sweets containing THC. They say they actively monitor this issue on their platforms using a mix of both technology and humans to review content.
Meta, who owns Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp, said they removed 98% of this content proactively in the last quarter and that they are working with the police and youth organisations to further improve their moderation.
Most of the accounts and search terms flagged during the Sky News investigation have now been banned.
The companies behind the sweets and snacks whose branding is copied by drug makers have previously spoken out against the look-a-like packaging, with some taking legal action.