Chloe Hammerton was queuing for food at the Isle of Wight Festival this year when a stranger encouraged her to try his vape. Within seconds of accepting the offer, the 26-year-old paramedic from Southampton started drifting in and out of consciousness. “It’s almost like the world went into slow motion,” she later told Good Morning Britain. She collapsed, had a seizure and thought she was going to die.
In the days after the festival, a 51-year-old man from Kent was arrested on “suspicion of administering a poison or noxious substance with intent”. So far, it’s unclear what might have been in the vape used to allegedly spike Hammerton; my first thought is that it could have been spice (a synthetic cannabinoid). Some so-called THC vapes in the UK actually contain spice. Meanwhile G (GHB and its precursor GBL), can be vaped too and that is a drug associated with spiking. But for now, we simply don’t know.
“Our enquiries are ongoing into this matter, so there is nothing further we would be able to say at the current time about it,” Hampshire Constabulary told THE FACE when we asked if they could share any more details. At the time, the Isle of Wight Festival said it was an “isolated incident”.
Spiking – getting drugs into another person’s body without their consent or knowledge – is being talked about a lot more these days. According to The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), recorded crimes for spiking in England and Wales increased every year between 2016 and 2019. There were 1,903 reports of spiking in 2019; the following year, reports doubled, with almost 5,000 reported spiking incidents taking place between September 2021 and September 2022 in England and Wales.
This was the period when nightclubs reopened after lockdown, which makes some sense: data shows that the vast majority of spikings reported to the police last year allegedly took place in a club. And it’s safe to say that reported crimes only accounts for a fraction of crimes that actually take place: according to Victim Support NI, studies have shown that “up to 60 per cent of crimes go unreported”.
In 2021, while the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met policeman was at the top of the news agenda,Love Island contestant Sharon Gaffka shared her experience of her drink being spiked in a London bar. Then there was widespread press coverage of needle spiking (people being spiked through injection) and a conversation about the treatment of women in society was ignited. It’s possible that these factors led to more women reporting spiking incidents – which doesn’t mean that there were more people being spiked, but simply that more people reported it.
The 2021/22 spiking data split the 4,924 reported spiking incidents into three categories: “reported spiking by needle” (2,581), “reported drink spiking” (2,131) and “reported other spiking e.g. by cigarettes or food” (212). Astonishingly, more people reported being spiked with a needle than in a drink, but the prevalence of the more fringe methods of spiking – mixing lube with G, secretly putting drugs in food or spiking a vape, for instance – are not mentioned specifically but form part of the latter category.
“I’ve seen vape spiking for the last few years now,” Dawn Dines, CEO of charity Stamp Out Spiking told THE FACE. “There’s a multitude of ways that spiking takes place, but vapes are coming more and more to our attention in the past two years.”
As for how prevalent this trend is, “It’s purely anecdotal,” Dines says. “We haven’t had any reports back from the police at present. But we did a survey a few years ago and it was a low percentage, I believe it was like 3 per cent of all spiking-related incidents that have been reported to us.”
She added: “They’ve got all these different flavours so it’s the perfect excuse to spike someone, isn’t it? ‘Do you want to try this bubblegum flavour?’” The Stamp Out Spiking survey also suggested that 97 per cent of spiking incidents are not reported to the police.
In 2019, Emma Sugrue-Lawrence, then 44, collapsed after she tried a man’s vape in a bar in Wolverhampton. Emergency services rushed her to hospital after she couldn’t breathe or hold her head up unassisted. She believes she was spiked. But we have no idea how often vapes are getting spiked in this country. According to the NPCC, it is “difficult to get a true picture of how widespread spiking is due to poor data”.
“We have heard of people unknowingly using vapes which contain THC or spice in them,” Helena Conibear, Chief Executive of the Alcohol Education Trust, a charity which tackles spiking against students across the UK, recently told The Independent. She added: “Very little is known about vape spiking as it is a new phenomenon. We are very much in the dark about how it operates.”
THE FACE spoke to a nurse who works in a busy London A&E, who wishes to remain anonymous. He said he deals with spiking “all the time” but has never seen a suspected vape spiking. He says the most popular drug people get spiked with is not G or Rohypnol, but alcohol.
“It’s what they call ‘doubling up’,” he explained when we asked how alcohol spiking works. “You say, ‘Do you want a drink?’ And say the victim asks for a vodka and tonic, they go to the bar and order a double vodka and tonic and a double shot of vodka.” The creep then pours the shot into the vodka tonic. He added: “The person gets a quad vodka tonic. That’s the most common way of spiking by far.” This method of spiking isn’t mentioned in the NPCC data at all.
“If someone offers you a drink in a club you can immediately say no,” Hammerton said after her ordeal at the Isle of Wight Festival. “But I’d never heard of vape spiking.” Until a clearer picture of vape spiking emerges, it’s best just to stick to your own vape and if you find one on the floor maybe don’t cane it – yes, even if it is a Lost Mary Blue Razz Ice.
Personally, when I see some of the dodgy stuff that is being put into so-called “THC vape carts” – spice, benzos, synthetic opioids, even heroin on occasion – I wouldn’t be accepting a puff on anyone’s vape, ever. Unless I know exactly where it has come from. And by that I mean if it was prescribed and sent to me by a UK-based legal cannabis dispensary. I wouldn’t touch black market ones unless I had sent one from the same batch for lab testing. Not because Johnny from the pub says, “My link gets the finest vapes from Cali, bro”.
(He doesn’t, he’s an idiot).