PHA warning to parents after reports of children vaping Spice

The Public Health Agency has urged parents to talk to young people about the dangers of vaping unknown substances as it could make them "seriously ill or even be fatal".

In a statement issued on Thursday, the PHA says it is focusing in particular on the dangers of vaping Spice, which is a synthetic drug which mimics the effects of cannabis. Spice is a nickname for a substance containing one or more of a group of drugs called synthetic cannabinoids.

Kevin Bailey, Regional Lead for Drugs and Alcohol at the PHA, said synthetic cannabinoids are relatively new drugs and evidence is still coming out about harms associated with their use.

Read more: PSNI make arrest after mum raises concerns her son was supplied with Spice

Read more: We asked Belfast students about new youth smoking and vaping laws

"However, we do know that people can have severe reactions after using them, and using with vapes could make them even more unsafe," Mr Bailey added.

"Sometimes the contents or strength of products within vapes cannot be fully verified, so the effects and duration of those effects can be unpredictable and change depending on the product and type of synthetic cannabinoid.

"There are hundreds of different synthetic cannabinoid structures, and some are stronger and more toxic than others, so there is no way of knowing what you are taking. The dangers of taking these substances also increase if you add other drugs to the mix including alcohol, prescription medication and other illicit substances.

"You can become dependent on synthetic cannabinoids with regular use. For some people who use them frequently, dependence can develop quickly. Inhaling synthetic cannabinoids, including spice, through a vape is extremely dangerous for young people."

The PHA says it is working with community and voluntary organisations, local Councils, the PSNI, the education sector and Health and Social Care partners to raise awareness of the issues and to share information.

For young people, it is warned that using substances is particularly dangerous during a time when they are still developing physically and mentally, with drugs having the potential to damage their cognitive and emotional development.

Kevin continued: "Parents and guardians can play an important role in helping young people understand the risks, so they don’t choose to take drugs without realising the harm they could be exposing themselves to. Don’t wait until there’s a problem before you decide to talk.

"It is important to advise young people that regardless of what they have been told, even by a close friend, that it is impossible to know what is contained in these substances. All drugs, whether alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription medication, carry risks."

The PHA also emphasised to young people that if they’re with someone who has taken drugs and has become unwell, they need to get them medical help immediately.

"It might be frightening and they will be scared of getting into trouble, but they need to look out for their friends, stay with them and get them help – it could save their lives," they added.

"If you think you or someone you know might have a problem with alcohol and/or drugs and would like to get help, please visit for information on support services near you.

"A range of services is also available to you if you are affected by someone else’s drinking and/or drug use, regardless of whether or not your loved one is receiving help for his or her alcohol and/or drug problem."

PHA's tips for parents/guardians:


  • Make the first move and bring up the topic of alcohol and drugs. Don’t wait until there’s a problem before you decide to talk. Take time to listen to what young people have to say.

  • Respect their views if you want the same in return.

  • Discuss the risks associated with drinking alcohol and substance use.

  • Discuss possible consequences of their actions and support them to make the right choices.

  • Think about your own behaviours and the influence this can have on young peoples’ behaviour.


  • Assume young people don’t want to talk. Not talking to them could be interpreted as your approval of them drinking or taking drugs.

  • Assume they already know everything.

  • Interrupt or be judgemental, even if you don’t agree with their opinion.

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