Cannabis vapes and the law in Northern Ireland

"Without a prescription, anyone vaping cannabis oil containing the compound THC, is committing an offence"
-Credit: (Image: Drugs and Alcohol NI)

While it is illegal to possess cannabis in Northern Ireland, vapes containing cannabis oils are allowed in some circumstances. That's when they are prescribed by a doctor for a range of health conditions.

These conditions can include epilepsy or chronic pain and it is only with a valid prescription for medical cannabis that it is not a criminal offence to vape cannabis oil or take it in the form of drops.

Police say that without a prescription for medical cannabis oil "anyone vaping cannabis oil containing the compound THC, is committing an offence" while oils containing only CBD - and not THC - are legal.

Read more: Figures on number of illegal vapes confiscated in Belfast in one year

Read more: PHA warning to parents after reports of children vaping Spice

But what is THC and CBD and what's the difference?

According to the National Institutes of Health THC, or Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is a medicinal compound. Naturally occurring THC is the principal psychoactive compound in marijuana and 1 of the 113 cannabinoids identified within the class of cannabinoid medications which come from the plant.

CBD on the other hand is extracted from hemp and is not psychoactive - which in every day terms means it won't "get you high". It can be bought over the counter in chemists and can be taken as drops to help control pain and other conditions. Both these drugs are made from plants.

Spice on the other hand, is a synthetic cannabinoid made in a lab and Drugs and Alcohol NI say "inhaling synthetic cannabinoids (including Spice) through a vaping pen is extremely dangerous".

The group recently revealed: "There are reports of young people in Northern Ireland buying THC or cannabis oil, but instead being supplied with [it] taking the synthetic cannabinoid drug 'Spice'. This has led, in cases, to them being admitted to hospital for treatment."

Spice is a nickname for synthetic drugs lab-created drugs that mimic the effects of cannabis. Technically they are called Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists – or SCRAs. They are relatively new drugs with new evidence emerging about harms associated with their use, including severe reactions.

Drugs and Alcohol NI say consuming them through a vape or using them with other e-liquids could make them even more unsafe.

With growing concerns around the vaping of substances such as Spice and cannabis oil in Northern Ireland we asked the PSNI, DOJ and DOH if there are any laws around the sale, or use, of cannabis vapes or cannabis liquids in Northern Ireland.

A PSNI spokesperson said: "Cannabis is a Class B controlled drug, possession of which is a criminal offence.

"Medical cannabis, which can be used to treat health conditions such as epilepsy, chronic pain and so on, can however be obtained by those with a valid prescription. Medical cannabis may be vaped or taken orally in the form of drops only by those patients with a prescription.

"Without a prescription, anyone vaping cannabis oil containing the compound THC, is committing an offence. Oils containing CBD only, and not THC, are currently legal."

The Department of Justice said the question should be put to the Department of Health. A DOH spokesperson said: "Cannabis is controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as a Class B drug.

"As such, there are prohibitions on most dealings with cannabis including the importation, sale or supply.

"Any vapes which contained cannabis and/or cannabinoids which are similarly controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 would be unlawful in Northern Ireland."

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