Warning: Popular Cannabis Vapes and Sedatives Contaminated with Deadly Animal Tranquiliser, Study Finds

London, United Kingdom – People in the UK seeking relief from pain, anxiety, and insomnia by purchasing cannabis vapes and illicit sedatives may unknowingly be putting themselves at risk of consuming a powerful animal tranquilizer known as xylazine. This substance, which can lead to skin ulcers and overdoses, has been increasingly present in the UK, following a trend that has been prevalent in the US for several years.

According to research from King’s College London, xylazine has been steadily growing in the UK since 2022, leading to multiple deaths. Unlike in the US, where xylazine is commonly mixed with strong opioids like heroin or fentanyl, in the UK, it has been found in counterfeit prescription drugs and vapes containing THC. This poses a significant risk to a broader population beyond just heroin users.

Dr. Caroline Copeland, a senior author of the study, highlighted the alarm raised by the presence of xylazine in the UK market. As more people who use drugs beyond heroin are exposed to its harms, the risk of overdose increases significantly, especially when xylazine is unknowingly combined with other substances. The findings, published in the Addiction journal, found that xylazine was linked to multiple deaths among those tested positive for the drug.

Xylazine is a non-opioid sedative and muscle relaxant commonly used in veterinary medicine. When cut with heroin and fentanyl, it can lower vital functions like breathing and heart rate to dangerous levels. The emergence of xylazine in the UK comes in the wake of the spread of nitazenes, synthetic drugs that have been implicated in a number of recent deaths among heroin users.

Dr. Adam Holland, a co-chair of the drugs special interest group at the University of Bristol and co-author of the study, underscored the urgent need for harm reduction interventions to prevent further deaths related to xylazine and other illicit drugs. The growing adulteration of drugs and the resulting increase in deaths serve as a clear indication that current punitive drug laws are failing to address the issue effectively.

In response to the threat posed by xylazine and other synthetic drugs, the government is taking steps to protect the public. Plans are underway to classify xylazine as a class C drug, with penalties of up to 14 years in prison, fines, or both for those found supplying the substance. This move aims to deter the distribution and use of xylazine, emphasizing the government’s commitment to addressing the dangers posed by illicit drugs in the UK.