Over half of ‘cannabis’ sweets seized by authorities contain synthetic drug which poses ‘even greater risk’

Huge increase in popularity of ‘sinister’ sweets, says Forensic Science Ireland

More than half of the so-called cannabis sweets seized by authorities last year did not contain any of the drug’s active ingredient.

Instead, they contained “synthetic cannabinoid”, a man made chemical designed to mimic the effect of THC, the active ingredient of cannabis, Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) has said.

Little is known about the physiological effects of these man-made compounds “and so they pose an even greater risk to product consumers than is realised,” FSI said in its annual report.

The agency, which carries out forensic analysis for An Garda Síochána, said there has been an explosion in the popularity of “these innocent looking bags of sweets” since it first encountered them in 2019.


Cannabis sweets come labelled as ‘Jolly Ranchers’, ‘Nerds’, ‘Starburst’, ‘Skittles’ and ‘Wowheads’ “to name but a few”, it said.

Last year FSI also tested products labelled as ‘Nutella’ chocolate spread, ‘Doritos’ crisps and ‘Fanta’ soft drinks which were found to contained THC. It said there are signs that product ranges are expanding from jelly sweets into other foodstuffs.

FSI said a “sinister” element of the products is that their packaging is alluring to children.

It highlighted a case they reported in 2021 where two preschool children were hospitalised after finding and consuming jelly sweets infused with THC. Last year, three teenagers were hospitalised after consuming ‘Jolly Rancher’ sweets purporting to contain THC. Instead, they contained the synthetic cannabinoid ADB-PINACA.

FSI noted the “unregulated and deceptive space” of the drug market where it is difficult to know what kind of drug is being purchased. It pointed to one case of “white powder Russian roulette” where gardaí seized seven bags of powder from the suspect. On analysis these were found to contain four kinds of drugs.

“While each of these powders were visually indistinguishable from each other, the effects of consuming each of these substances are potentially very different. Drug users have no guarantee that purchasing illicit substances won’t result in unintended sinister consequences,” it said.

FSI processed over 23,500 investigations last year, including almost 12,000 drugs cases. It also maintained the National DNA Databased which assisted in almost 800 investigations last year.

The database now contains over 73,000 DNA profiles, compared to just 25 when it was established in 2015.

Over 6,400 DNA profiles were removed from the database last year in line with legislative requirements. “This is an indication that FSI is adhering to the important safeguards in place to protect the integrity of the DNA Database and the people whose DNA data is recorded on it,” Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said.

DNA profiling was used to assist in identifying 130 bodies last year in cases where visual identification was not possible. FSI also assisted in solving 12 missing persons cases.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times