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gritt weed

I smoked gritweed

When living in Paris in 2006, I had a terrible experience with the infamous contaminated weed called “gritweed” in the UK. While studying at a university in the French capital, I smoked cannabis with friends, like many students do. The hashish was so weak it was almost certainly adulterated, so I avoided that. For the first year, good quality marijuana would be readily available.

Then, sometime in 2006, a white powder started appearing on the pot. Noone knew what it was, and most people would just say that “it has a lot of crystals” or that “it is just the bottom of the bag”. I felt something was wrong, so I complained a lot about it. All the other students tried to defend their purchase, and even accused me of being paranoid. They saw my skepticism as an attack on their hustling skills.

But I was right. Because a year after the awful stuff appeared, French news could report that the cannabis was indeed contaminated, and not with the benevolent substances such as flour, that we had thought, but with super-fine silica powder. The French government issued a health warning, and even started a government helpline for people to call. I now understood why I had such a terrible cough, and a constant throat inflammation. No wonder. I had been inhaling contaminants that were in no way safe.

I got really scared, and saw a doctor. I was referred to a lung specialist. The doctor who referred me did not know about gritweed, and was thankful for the information I gave her. The lung specialist, however, mocked me, saying he did not understand why anyone would inhale any smoke at all. But he did refer me to several other specialists. I did extensive lung tests, in the form of x-rays, breathing tests, and even a CAT scan. They did find some scarring in the airways, but it was impossible to tell what might have caused it. Some people are born like that, according to the doctor. In any case, the inflammation and cough I had was real, and there were reports of serious harms from this stuff coming in from both France and the UK.

Oh, and the women who did the CAT scan recommended I smoke “beuh” (French slang for weed), instead of hash. When I told them my problems actually stemmed from “beuh”, however, one of them was shocked, and the other doctor made fun of her, saying “do you smoke beuh, or what?”. She probably did.

Some of my friends were pointing out that the French government just had a series of raids on cannabis factories leading up to the occurence of gritweed. So this is what such raids leads to – because the people who run these factories need to get their money anyway, don’t they? If criminals can increase product weight and earn more money in the short run, without much added risk, of course they will do it. This is what happens in an illegal market.

I am deeply shocked. It took the government a whole year to issue warnings, and even then I would say only about 20% of my friends would stop using cannabis. It is completely unacceptable in a democracy to put millions of people at risk.

Cannabis has been around me in my circle of friends my whole life, and all my friends have grown up to become normal, responsible adults. Many still enjoy it on occasion. Yet, noone talks about it: the power of the taboo and the illegality is so strong that it is difficult to handle emergency health hazard situations like this.

Cannabis users deserve the same rights as others. The whole situation made me an activist for harm reducation and regulation. I pressured the student union to put up warning posters, which were subsequently ripped down, perhaps by the administration. A good drug user, is a sick or dead drug user, apparently, for some people. But I will not be silenced.

To this day, I am afraid for my health. Afraid that the grit could have hurt my lungs or body. I quit smoking at once when I found this out, of course, but having unknowingly used it for a long time, I am not sure how it will affect me. I can only hope that my body takes care of it, and hope for the best.

Apparently the appalling stuff is still around. Dealers have gotten better at hiding the contaminants. This weed has been dubbed “stealth grit”. Sometimes contamination can be undetectable to the naked eye. But chewing and tasting a tiny piece of weed should still work in detecting it. If it crackles when you chew it, it has silica powder. If it tastes sweet, sugar water. If it tastes chemical, some other contaminant. Chewing pure pot should be like chewing salad, and it should have a mildly bitter taste of plant material. Another good indication would be abonormally high weight compared to physical size.

When living in Paris in 2006, I had a terrible experience with the infamous contaminated weed called "gritweed" in the UK.

Know Your Smoke – Grit, Spray and Flush.

Since 2007 there has been a worrying trend amongst large scale growers whereby they increase the weight of their yield by spraying the flowers with glass frosting spray, sugar or even micro contaminants. Whilst it is impossible to tell if micro contaminants have been used upon inspection; it is possible to check for glass frosting or sugar.

Cannabis coated in fine grit and falling off in the baggy.

When you get your bag of weed there are a couple of things you can do to check its quality. OK I know we all look for that wonderful frosty bud, however this can mean that you are getting something extra for your money that you definitely don’t want. If cannabis looks extremely frosty there are ways to check that it is ‘clean’ of unwanted additives. Run your finger round the plastic bag it came in or brush it across the flowers themselves (gently). Then place your finger in your mouth and rub the crystal around your teeth. If it is free of additives the crystal will just dissolve. If that happens nothing to worry about! Sit back and prepare your lovely (hopefully fairly weighed out) herb and think nothing more of it. If however you get a ‘snap crackle and pop’ sensation you can safely conclude that the deal is contaminated with glass. If it tastes overly sweet you have bought cannabis sprayed with sugar.

If unfortunately you have bought contaminated cannabis DO NOT SMOKE IT. I understand that getting a refund from a street dealer is nigh on impossible and lets face it not always safe, however the tight chest, headache, sore throat and other nasty side effects just aren’t worth it. Scientists are still unsure as to the long term effects of smoking ‘grit weed’ as the size of the glass particles varies which means in some cases this could cause damage to your lungs. As always the long term effects of pulmonary damage can take some time to manifest – in short it is a waiting game and one that is definitely not worth playing. It has been proven by scientists such as Tashkin et al that cannabis use, even when heavy and prolonged does little to no lung damage at all. However this ‘grit weed’ is not safe and was not featured in this research at all. Do you really want to be inhaling hot glass, iron or sand filings.

Purple Kush with dense trichome coverage.

One way to check for micro contaminants is to check the quality of the ash in your spliff or bong. I had cannabis once that was not something I would have classed as ‘grit weed’ as it passed all the above tests. However the ash left in the bong was greasy and would smear up your hand rather than just disintegrating. When tried in a joint the ash went solid and stuck to the end of the rizla failing to drop off the end into the ashtray as you would expect of high quality unadulterated flowers.

Please be careful, this cannabis is still in circulation and is still causing problems for people’s health. If you have any doubts –don’t smoke it. If you don’t feel safe to get a refund or even complain, vote with your feet. The more this sells the more unscrupulous growers will use glass and other contaminants to gain even more money from their yield than they already do. Alternatively follow the link below for guidance on growing your own for £4.20 a week.

By Beccy Gardham

White ash shows that the herb is well flushed of nutrients and is clean of any spray or sugar.

Know Your Smoke – Grit, Spray and Flush. Since 2007 there has been a worrying trend amongst large scale growers whereby they increase the weight of their yield by spraying the flowers with glass