Schools sound warning over vaping devices laced with drugs

This article originally appeared on Schools Week UK. To view the original article, click here.

Growing numbers of schools and councils are issuing warnings over pupils vaping class B drugs, as the devices continue to cause widespread disruption to the education sector.

The concerns follow reports that pupils from at least two schools have been rushed to hospital after inhaling vapes laced with THC – the main psychoactive component in cannabis – this year.

Honywood School, in Essex, became the latest to send a letter to parents, after becoming aware that some of its pupils “have been able to access and use this substance”.

Councils, including Middlesbrough, Hampshire and Brighton, have also issued guidance in recent months on the potential effects of such substances being vaped by young people.

A survey of 4,000 members published by teachers’ union NASUWT in October found 85 per cent believed vaping was a problem on school premises, with three-quarters saying the issue had grown over the past year.

Comments on their experiences included that students were “vaping THC and being sick, passing out and being high whilst on school premises”, and that there had been an “escalation from vaping nicotine to THC”.

Honywood headteacher James Saunders said, like many secondary schools, it had been forced to “run a pretty tight ship” in terms of monitoring vaping among pupils since Covid.

The school has trialled a vape detector and places pupils caught with a device in isolation. “We’ve managed to kind of contain it and keep a lot of it out of school, but that doesn’t mean it’s eradicated,” said Saunders.

Fears over odourless vapes

A recent incident in which a child was suspected of using a vape containing THC posed another challenge because the substance is “pretty odourless… whereas the others have fancy smells so you could smell if someone has done it”.

Pupils caught in possession of illegal substances are permanently excluded, while the school is “constantly in communication” with police, said Saunders.

However, he warned that while the incident was the first he’d come across, “I think it’s going to start emerging as a bigger thing”.

And while vaping itself could be disruptive to the school day, “that’s got more serious consequences because people could end up in hospital”.

In May, Burnley Unity College confirmed three of its secondary students were taken to hospital after smoking a vape suspected of containing THC.

Headteacher Jane Richardson said at the time that it was working with Lancashire Police, Trading Standards, the UK Health Security Agency and local safeguarding partners to “keep our children safe”.

According to reports, two pupils at Saddleworth School in Greater Manchester ended up in A&E in September after being given a vape on a school bus suspected of containing THC.

Both schools were contacted for comment.

Pupil rushed to hospital after collapse

Glyn Potts, headteacher of Newman RC College, in Oldham, said he first became aware of disposable vapes being “repurposed” after a 13-year-old male pupil collapsed in July last year.

The boy, who Potts said had taken a vaping device from his older brother, took the “largest inhalation he could have done” before he got off the school bus and was taken to hospital.

He added that other schools in the area had experienced similar incidents with devices that have “cracks in the plastic” and had been “broken into”.

A “response system” now exists in Oldham, whereby if a pupil collapses “we can confiscate the vape, we can give it to the police, who will make a decision about whether it … needs to be tested.”

Greater Manchester Police said it shared information and was working with partner agencies and Trading Standards to tackle illegal vapes.

Potts said he was “concerned” about the 3 per cent of pupils he estimates are using illicit vapes, but added that while they may come in reporting that they “feel unwell”, much of the issue was happening outside the school gates.

Schools invest in fireproof boxes

While Newman is investing in a fireproof box for storing illicit vapes that are also “prone to exploding”, it has only confiscated six vapes this academic year, none of which contained class Bs.

Middlesbrough Council issued a warning to parents in October after Cleveland Police seized “dozens of vapes” confiscated from students by a school in the area.

The force found that a small number tested positive for class B substances, which the council said could cause “serious health problems”.

Brighton & Hove Council said in July that the “rapid rise of vaping among children and young people, including the use of cheaper illicit and unregulated vapes, is extremely concerning”.

In the same month, while announcing a crackdown on teen vaping – which included renewing vaping prevention programmes with schools – Hampshire County Council pointed to illegal products on the market that may contain THC.

The government has set out proposals for cracking down on underage vaping and carried out a call for evidence.

Pupils “should be taught the facts about legal and illegal harmful substances” in RSHE lessons, a Department for Education spokesperson said.