Exploring the Daily Mail ‘Investigation into cannabis dealing on Instagram’

Image: Daily Mail ‘investigation’ into cannabis dealing on Instagram

Last week ‘The UK’s most popular daily newspaper’ the Daily Mail published an investigation into cannabis dealing on Instagram on its website DailyMail.co.uk that has caused some contempt, controversy, and confusion.

In the article, the anonymous authors claim that there are ‘hundreds of drug dealers using Instagram to peddle potent cannabis to children.’ An unsubstantiated and frankly hyperbole claim to say the least. There is a lot to break down here, but I’ll do my best to cover all of the relevant material and threads discussed in the article. 

There are several parts to this piece. First the story about Instagram vendors allegedly offering to sell cannabis products to undercover journalists pretending to be minors. Then a previous story about an undercover sting on a violent and grandiose Albanian gangster, a reference to another previous Daily Mail piece about a young girls suicide that I discuss in issue 8 of Last Week in Weed, and a host of unsourced ‘facts’ and misinformation.

The piece starts by asserting that the scale of online cannabis dealing ‘has mushroomed during lockdown’ and that hundreds of cannabis dealers are using Instagram to sell to young children. This rather alarmist summation seems to be based on their allegation that their undercover team was able to find just four out of 250 Instagram accounts they suspected of being dealers that would allegedly sell cannabis products to under-18s. 

The authors go on to say their investigation revealed “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.”

While the private messenger comment may be true. The idea that dealers are ‘lacing children’s sweets with cannabis’ is a rehashing of classic reefer madness propaganda and wilful ignorance of cannabis culture. This persistent myth is spread by the mainstream press, prohibitionists, and especially politicians. They like to cash in on appearing tough on drugs and pro-heteronormative family at the same time. 

Cannabis consumers like to pay homage to the brands they consumed as kids by imitating or infusing them with cannabis extracts. This is intended for other adult members of the community to nostalgically enjoy and is a way of celebrating the creativity, ingenuity, and humour of cannabis culture.

The piece continues with several images include a menu and several promotional shots taken from the four accounts that the media giant is accused of offering to supply cannabis to minors. All of whom have now subsequently been removed by Instagram. Along with all the 250 accounts involved in the investigation. 

We’ve removed several of the accounts flagged to us by the Daily Mail and are continuing to investigate. Buying and selling drugs is strictly against our rules and we use a combination of technology and human review to remove it. Between April and June [2021], we removed 2.3million pieces of drug sales content, over 95 percent before it was reported to us, and we work closely with law enforcement and youth organisations to help us continually improve. We’re exploring new ways to support people who search for this content in the UK, and hope to have an update soon” – Facebook spokesperson

The team claims to have contacted the four accounts to purchase cannabis products and duly informed them of their juvenile status. They then claim that all of the accounts responded indicating in various ways that they were happy to complete the transaction. Even going on to state that one of the accounts ‘promised gifts if they recruited their classmates as customers.’ 

It isn’t mentioned if they actually went through with purchasing the cannabis products, but I can’t imagine that the team was willing to break any laws, just various social media guidelines. Interestingly, they do not provide screenshots of the conversations, just a thought.

image: food Safety News

Next, ‘the team’ makes the frankly absurd claim that there are Instagram accounts offering products including ‘cannabis-laced sweets with the equivalent strength of 50 joints, which police have warned causes ‘substantial harm.’ Let’s look at this claim a little closer shall we? The average gram of cannabis flower contains around 15 – 25% THC or around 150 – 250mg of THC.

A typical pure joint will contain around 1g or so of flower, which would mean it contained 150 – 250mg of THC. An edible 50 times stronger than that would contain between 7,500 – 12,500mg of THC. Even if a consumer mixes their cannabis with tobacco and only consumes say 0.5g that still equates to around 3,750 – 6,250mg of THC. The strongest edibles you’ll typically see for sale at events or online in the UK scene are around 1,000mg.

So, I cannot believe I am typing this but in this singular instance, I am inclined to agree. Consuming edibles 50 times stronger than a joint would cause an extraordinary high, a several day stoner over, and could potentially cause the consumer to experience tachycardia, heightened anxiety, and difficulty retaining full cognitive control of their mental faculties. However, given that cannabis is non-toxic and doesn’t suppress repository function they won’t risk death, no matter how much is consumed.

A comment from an unnamed consultant psychiatrist ‘who welcomed the Mail’s investigation’ follows. They warn that ‘high-strength cannabis trade ‘exploded’ during lockdown and was driving young people into ‘psychosis, depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.’ This comment is provided without any attempt to provide any further explanation as to what would drive young people to consume cannabis. 

There is no consideration or mention of the multitude of other potential factors such as; an ongoing global pandemic, intermittent country-wide lockdowns, extended social isolation, increased poverty, food scarcity, or just the same general sense of hopelessness and helplessness that most of us are currently experiencing. 

It then goes on to claim that 8% of ‘school pupils’ have tried cannabis, which they claim has caused 13,000 under-18s to need ‘treatment’ including more than 1,000 aged 13 and under. It doesn’t reveal their sources or how they arrived at their statistics. So I thought I would do a little digging to see exactly what that means.

There are currently 10,320,811 full and part-time school pupils in the UK. 8,890,357 in England, 469,176 in Wales, 794,364 in Scotland, 341,402 in Northern Ireland according to the latest data from the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA). So that’s an estimated 825,665 school pupils who have tried cannabis and just 1.6% of them ‘needed treatment’ according to the Mail

I take issue with this rather ambiguous language. It tells us very little about what that ‘treatment’ entailed. Did they have to attend an A&E department at their local hospital, did a concerned parent, relative, or care have to ring 111, did they attend or notify their doctor’s surgery.

I would sure be interested to know who many of these ‘interventions’ were only caused by over-protective and paranoid guardians scared into believing decades of government-sponsored propaganda, mainstream media misinformation, and the regurgitation of reefer madness in pop culture. 

Now, let’s compare those numbers with the nation’s favourite intoxicant and neurological poison, alcohol. In 2020, there were nearly 1.3 million estimated hospital admissions where the primary or secondary reason for their visit was alcohol. This represents an increase of 20% compared to a decade previous

In the same year, excessive alcohol consumption caused 7,423 premature deaths in the UK, up 19% from the previous year. This is likely a dramatic underestimation as deaths from the various forms of cancer caused by alcohol consumption aren’t included in those statistics. Now let’s look at cannabis, which still has caused 0 deaths in human history. However, Synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs) or synthetic cannabinoids have. They are listed as the primary cause of death on at least 143 death certificates between 2012 and 2019 in England and Wales alone.

Recent data from the WHO shows 5.3% of all annual deaths are the result of alcohol consumption, that’s right 1 in 20 deaths globally are caused by alcohol consumption. Alcohol is causal and co-morbid in over 200 diseases and injury conditions including cancer, especially cancer of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, larynx, breast, bowel, and liver. Whereas cannabis has been shown in various clinical trials to help fight cancer and put it into remission. Its also been shown to help manage and reduce the symptoms, as well as treat myriad chronic health conditions and diseases.

The piece continues on to state that unnamed ‘experts’ have informed them that ‘as early as 2014, one in four sales were made online’ and that ‘the proportion is now believed to be far higher.’ I cannot prove or disprove this claim. However, selling cannabis online isn’t anything new so it wouldn’t surprise me. 

After all the first online transaction was for cannabis. When back in 1972 between two computer science students from Stanford and MIT used the Arpanet network to sell other students small amounts of cannabis.

One of the other main factors overlooked here is the cultural inclinations of cannabis consumers. I and hundreds of thousands of others first began consuming cannabis as a young teenager with no negative health consequences. That isn’t to say there isn’t any risk at all in consuming cannabis.

There is a rather small percentage of consumers that could potentially have an adverse reaction and potentially develop a dependency. This number is smaller than alcohol, tobacco, and arguably even caffeine. Ultimately, it remains infinitesimal when compared to the percentage of consumers that suffer permanent psychological damage as a result of prohibition.

The Mail asserts that 16 and 17-year-olds consuming cannabis is inherently dangerous for all of them and will harm their mental health, increase their risk of suicide, promote future criminality, and increase their risk of committing violent acts. This is in my opinion a load of crap. It is a deliberate attempt to misinterpret the data and situation. These consequences are for the most part the result of complex socio-economic factors, pre-existing mental health issues, and cannabis prohibition – not its consumption.

This is juxtaposed with the UK’s hardcore alcohol culture which is so popular that it managed to create various laws to perpetuate and protect its own prevalence in society. This has led to some rather unusual laws being enacted.

For example, it is illegal to purchase alcohol for a minor but a 16/17-year-old can legally consume alcohol with a meal on a licensed premise, they simply cannot legally purchase it. However, the weirdest one is that it’s legal to supply a child aged 5 and above alcohol at home or at a licensed premises.

Where is the media uproar about five-year-olds consuming alcohol? Could it be absent because they actually understand that there are subtle nuances at play here? I do wonder if it’s got something to do with what happens when you remove the taboo and demystify a substance to the youth. I truly believe that we inherently and culturally know that it is one of the best ways to promote the development of a healthier substance relationship to alcohol. So why not try it with cannabis too?

The evidence about how alcohol affects the developing brain is vast and well-established. Yet we allow our youth to periodically imbibe in it. The jury is still out on how cannabis and its component cannabinoids affect the development of an adolescent brain, the go-to mantra of the prohibitionist. However, we do know that there are various patents already held around the world for cannabinoids as neuroprotective agents and treatments against degenerative brain diseases.

I find it difficult to see how they could harm the developing brain given that endo-cannabinoids are present in breast milk in very high quantities. We know that phytocannabinoids mimic endogenous ones and they are responsible for the healthy functionality of the majority of human regulatory systems. So again I cannot see how they could be harmful, especially more so than a recognised neurological toxin like alcohol which we now know 5-year-olds are allowed to drink legally.

The piece finishes with a recapping of an older story about ‘The Devil’ a violent Albanian gangster living in London. The article documents the violent and criminal disregard the man shows to all authority and the lavish grandiose lifestyle it has afforded him. It goes on to in detail recount how the man tortured another man. I cannot help but feel like the republishing of this earlier piece in conjunction with this ‘investigation’ is to tacitly imply and create an association between regular cannabis consumers and dealers and violent criminal thugs.

Despite what ‘journalists’ like Peter Hitchins and others would have you believe cannabis consumption isn’t associated with increased violence. The same, however, cannot be said of alcohol. A 2020 Alcohol Harm Commission report found that alcohol consumption fuels an estimated 40% of all violent crime and 50% of domestic violence cases in the UK. Such statistics do not currently exist for cannabis, but if they did I highly doubt they would be in any way comparable to those above. However, this hasn’t and won’t stop the mainstream media from pushing their pro-alcohol/ anti-cannabis narrative.

Another article from the week before that appears to be connected to this investigation is an attempt to name and shame prominent UK rapper, Professor Green. While monitoring one of the accounts for the investigation, it shared an image of the mental health advocate appearing to smoke a joint. The hit piece was published without comment from the rapper’s publicist, who was contacted by the Mail but did not respond.

Professor Green’s Instagram response to the Daily Mail article.

Professor Green did, however, respond on Instagram. In a post addressed to the ‘Investigation Unit’ the ‘Just be good to green’ and ‘jungle’ singer corrected the article saying that “I didn’t promote the ‘dealer’, I wasn’t ‘caught’ doing anything, and I don’t even praise the fucking Lord let alone a dealer, the video is older than my gran.”

He then goes on to question the rag’s credibility and ethics by saying “what’s happened to all of the actual journalism, it’s now not a wider article that you’ve referenced me in, it’s just a pop at me.” Going on to name the journalists as Tom Kelly, saying “it’s got so bad they hide behind ‘units’ – What does this hope to achieve?” 

He finishes the post by saying “Diddums… little bit unhappy with the momentum I’ve been building up with all the good I’ve been doing? – Bye bye @dailymail – Please don’t contact my agent again. Im off for a zoot ?”

So what can we take from this piece of journalistic gold? Well, we now know how woefully uninformed the UK mainstream press are about the size of the UK cannabis community and the scope and scale of its online presence.

Learned that over 98% of under 18s that consumed cannabis in 2020 did so with no need to seek ‘ treatment.’ We also found out that the vast majority of alleged online vendors will not sell to under-18s but are at risk of this kind of pernicious journalism.

Ultimately, the purpose of this piece was clearly not to produce any sincere insight into the issue it highlights. Indeed it is not designed to provide facts to create a reasoned and rational discourse and debate. It’s meant simply to fortify the ignorant view of its readership and to ensure the continuation of the socio-economic, political, and corporate status quo.

Written for The Simpa Life by Simpa


Simpa Carter
Simpa Carter

Simpa is a passionate drug law reform activist, mental health advocate, blogger, freelance writer, and host of The Simpa Life podcast.