Investigation reveals dealers are making fortunes by selling their wares online targeting children
Drug lords of Instagram exposed: Investigation reveals dealers are making fortunes by selling their wares online… and they even target children
- Daily Mail investigation finds dealers using Instagram to sell cannabis to children
- Notorious drug baron who bragged about kidnapping among dealers using site
- Products offered include laced sweets with the equivalent strength of 50 joints
- Almost 13,000 under-18s needed treatment last year, over 1,000 were under 13
Hundreds of drug dealers are using Instagram to peddle potent cannabis to children in a billion-pound industry, a Daily Mail investigation has found.
The problem on the Facebook-owned site has mushroomed in lockdown, leading to fears of the drug causing a ‘psychosis timebomb’.
A drug baron who bragged about kidnapping and chopping off the fingers of a client is among the dealers using the social media site to earn themselves millions of pounds a year, our undercover reporters found.
Dealers, some with almost 30,000 followers, promote their wares with enticing pictures of cannabis packaged as children’s sweets and then arrange sales via private messaging services.
Daily Mail investigation finds dealers using Instagram (Pictured) to sell cannabis to children using brightly coloured sweet packets to entice them, and arrange sales via private messaging
Spaceshack (pictured) advertises a string of cannabis edibles such as Lucky Charms and fruit flavoured gummies marketed with the slogan: ‘Have you ever been to space?’
The ‘Bezzle710’ Instagram page (Pictured) is run by a Leeds-based dealer and openly includes pictures of cannabis flowers, footage of marijuana plants being grown and adverts for potent prerolled cannabis joints in professional and marked packaging
When contacted on Instagram by Mail reporters posing as a 16-year-old, they were happy to sell, and boasted about ‘mad strains’ that would get them ‘high as f***’. One promised ‘gifts’ if they recruited their classmates as customers.
Products offered included cannabis-laced sweets with the equivalent strength of 50 joints, which police have warned causes ‘substantial harm’. The sweets have led to hundreds of children – some still in primary school – being rushed to hospital with heart palpitations, anxiety attacks, uncontrollable vomiting, paranoia and hallucinations.
Experts told the Mail that drug dealers had now ‘shifted from street corners on to social media’ because of the ease of selling online. Advertising on platforms such as Instagram gives them greater legitimacy and enables them to ‘build a brand and identity’.
One consultant psychiatrist – who welcomed the Mail’s investigation – warned that the high-strength cannabis trade ‘exploded’ during lockdown and was driving young people into ‘psychosis, depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide’.
An estimated 8 per cent of school pupils have used cannabis, leading to almost 13,000 under-18s needing treatment last year, including more than 1,000 aged 13 and younger.
The UK’s illegal cannabis market is valued at between £2-2.6billion. As early as 2014, one in four sales were made online. The proportion is now believed to be far higher.
Our investigation found:
- Instagram’s algorithm fuels the trade: Potential buyers looking for cannabis dealers are linked to yet more traders.
- Packaging is often designed to appeal to youngsters and features characters such as Postman Pat and Robin Hood, plus Monster Munch crisps and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
- Specialist marketing companies openly help dealers create ‘designer brands’ for their potent cannabis to maximise sales.
Brazen Instagram sites that make
Products offered included cannabis-laced sweets with the equivalent strength of 50 joints, which police have warned causes ‘substantial harm’
Advertises a string of cannabis edibles such as Lucky Charms and fruit flavoured gummies marketed with the slogan: ‘Have you ever been to space?’
When an undercover Daily Mail reporter contacted to ask ‘what’s on the menu?’ they responded with a smiley face emoji and a link to a Telegram [an encrypted mobile messaging app] group saying: ‘Join the chat to view our menu and place orders.’ The group was filled with a dizzying array of high strength products which the administrator said was all ‘eleven out of ten’, boasting: ‘If it ain’t top shelf we ain’t selling it bro.’ After the reporter put in an order, the admin told him it was a ‘banging’ strain and said it was ‘no stress’ that the buyer was only 16 years old.
THE Manchester dealer advertises a range of pre-rolled joints and edibles on the site backed with videos by rappers promoting the brand.
One undercover reporter who approached the dealer was offered ultra-potent Californian cannabis strain known as ‘Cali’ and tried to sell packs of super potent ‘nerd ropes’ – children’s sweets laced with high strength cannabis which hospitalised 13 pupils at a London girls school last year.
A second reporter was offered a range of products with names like ‘Loaded Cannons’ and ‘Jet Fuel’ all available for ‘next day’ delivery after Bitcoin payment. The dealer showed no concerns when told the customer was 16 and replied: ‘You ready?’
The sweets have led to hundreds of children – some still in primary school – being rushed to hospital with heart palpitations, anxiety attacks, uncontrollable vomiting, paranoia and hallucinations
THE Leeds-based dealer openly includes pictures of cannabis flowers, footage of marijuana plants being grown and adverts for potent prerolled cannabis joints in professional and marked packaging. The site described it as the ‘best UK grown weed’. One of its sellers told an undercover reporter it was cash on collection, boasting that ‘many heads want a step in the door’.
The dealer was unconcerned when told the buyer was 16, responding: ‘Shout me tomoz bro.’
The UK’s illegal cannabis market is valued at between £2-2.6billion. As early as 2014, one in four sales were made online. The proportion is now believed to be far higher
The dealers use pictures and footage of scantily clad models smoking joints to tout for business. ‘Loud’ is slang for extremely powerful and high strength cannabis. It also has a strong, pungent odour and has a faster, stronger effect than ‘regular’ weed.
When contacted by an undercover Mail reporter posing as a 16-year-old, they had no concerns about selling to a teenager. They supplied him with a Telegram messaging address and then sent a detailed menu of UK, Dutch and California cannabis which promised a ‘lovely high’. They also offered a tracked delivery in ‘smell proof’, discreet packaging.
A mother whose daughter killed herself after suffering from cannabis-induced psychosis fears ‘many more’ youngsters will die because of social media’s growing influence.
Katya Kowalski, of drug harm reduction advocacy group Volteface which has studied online drugs sales, said social media apps had made it much easier for dealers to target young people.
She adde d: ‘They’re able to create more of a community – a friendly mechanism that doesn’t necessarily seem overwhelming or intimidating. One of the key issues, especially with young people, is that drug dealers then almost become friends.
‘The way it is branded makes them look a lot more friendly and approachable – which is a lot different to going down a dark alleyway at night to pick up.’
She said it meant drug dealing had ‘shifted from street corners onto social media’, with platforms like Instagram giving the dealer ‘more legitimacy, allowing them to build a brand and identity’.
A grieving mum’s fear for others
Kerry Head is the mother of Emily Rowling (Pictured) who tragically killed herself after suffering from cannabis-induced psychosis
A mother whose daughter killed herself after suffering from cannabis-induced psychosis fears the potent strains of the drug sold on Instagram will cause ‘many more’ youngsters to die.
Kerry Head said ‘beautiful, bright and fun’ Emily Rowling became increasingly paranoid after starting to take the drug as a teenager.
Six years later, in 2019, she was found dead outside a car park in Nottingham.
The 23-year-old had suffered a psychotic episode that evening and thought she was Mary Magdalene.
Mrs Head, 51, said her daughter would be alive today had it not been for cannabis and warned about the false sense of security around the drug.
‘Cannabis is so destructive. Smoking it can lead to psychosis. Once you are in psychosis you have lost touch with reality.
‘Why would you risk that?’
Her daughter would spend all her cash on cannabis leading to bouts of heavy smoking that would worsen her psychosis. It was only when she had run out of money and unable to buy the drug that her mother could see an improvement in her mental health.
‘But when the money came in, the cycle started all over again,’ Mrs Head added. ‘Her paranoia became so severe that she once threw out all of the food we had bought her. She thought we were trying to poison her.’
Emily did not buy cannabis online, but Mrs Head, a mortgage broker from Ockbrook, Derbyshire, is concerned for other parents now that the drug is on sale on Instagram.
‘Instagram sales could really exacerbate the risk, because children are buying stronger stuff and it’s also more readily available, she said.
‘Instagram should not be allowing dealers to advertise cannabis on their site.’
Dr Niall Campbell, one of the UK’s leading drug addiction experts based at the Priory’s hospital in south-west London, said: ‘Increasingly young people are able to buy cannabis or other drugs via the internet or social media, which is extremely worrying.
‘The mental health effects can include psychosis, depression, anxiety disorders, self-harm and suicidal behaviours.
‘This cannabis trade has exploded under lockdown, with bored teens spending hours online at home or in university halls of residence, and then in parks or with their mates when lockdown lifted.’
An undercover Mail reporter posing as a 16-year-old contacted a string of Instagram dealers, including London based SpaceshakeUK. It advertises a range of cannabis edibles, such as Lucky Charms and fruit-flavoured gummies marketed with the slogan ‘have you ever been to space?’, to more than 27,000 followers.
The reporter was offered a ‘banging’ strain and told ‘no stress’ when he revealed his age.
Manchester-based Stonechester, which promotes its wares to more than 19,000 followers using videos by high-profile rappers, was happy to offer a teenager a range of high-strength cannabis with names such as ‘Loaded Cannons’ and ‘Jet Fuel’, all of which were available for ‘next day’ delivery.
LoudfamUK, filled with pictures and footage of scantily clad models smoking joints, offers a detailed menu to more than 8,000 followers. It also provides tracked delivery in ‘smell proof’ discreet packaging.
Leeds-based Bezzle710, which has 14,000 followers and claims to have the ‘best UK grown weed’, was unconcerned when told their new client was 16, responding: ‘Shout me tomoz bro.’ The Mail initially approached a sample from more than 250 Instagram accounts of suspected dealers, almost all of which have now been shut by Instagram after we alerted them.
When the Mail followed these sellers for our investigation, we were immediately followed by many other previously undetected suspected dealers who were also happy to sell to a teenager.
Miss Kowalski said Instagram’s algorithm works in the dealers’ favour to expand their network. It can also mean children who are not looking for a dealer are followed by the traders if a friend is already linked to one.
Online dealers operate in different ways, but in most cases after being contacted via Instagram they switch to a private messaging system, such as Wickr or Telegram.
They then send more details about what they have available and the price list. The cannabis is usually delivered to the customer after payment via credit card or Bitcoin. Some still only do in-person collections and insist on cash.
Our revelations come after Dame Carol Black’s recently published review of drugs for the Government concluded: ‘Dealers have a significant online presence, using social media to push drugs to children and young people.
‘Decisive action is needed to curtail online harm and introduce legislation which places greater responsibility on technology companies to address these issues.’ Some 12,775 under-18s needed treatment for cannabis for the year up to March 31, Public Health England found. This was 89 per cent of all children needing treatment for any drug or alcohol abuse.
Levels of THC in cannabis – the psychoactive substance which creates the ‘high’ – are now routinely 16 per cent, compared with maximums of 5 per cent in the 1960s.
Any cannabis with THC levels of over 10 per cent is known as ‘high-potency’. A study in The Lancet from 2019 showed that people who use high-potency cannabis every day were nearly five times more likely to be diagnosed with psychosis than those who had never used the substance.
A spokesman for Facebook, which owns Instagram, said: ‘We’ve removed several of the accounts flagged to us by the Daily Mail and are continuing to investigate.
‘Buying and selling drugs is strictly against our rules and we use a combination of technology and human review to remove it.
‘Between April and June, we removed 2.3million pieces of drug sales content, over 95 per cent before it was reported to us, and we work closely with law enforcement and youth organisations to help us continually improve.
‘We’re exploring new ways to support people who search for this content in the UK, and hope to have an update soon.’
Face to face with dealer called ‘The Devil’
It’s just gone midday at a north London Wetherspoons and Selamet Mehmetaj sips a Coke as he calmly outlines how his multi-million-pound trade in potent cannabis works.
The drug baron, whose £50,000 Mercedes-Benz without a front number plate is parked nearby, has agreed to meet potential new clients after they contacted him via the anonymous Instagram page that advertises his business.
Unconcerned by other drinkers and passing pedestrians in the bustling Wood Green town centre, the 28-year-old explains how every month he supplies dealers across the UK with 2,500 high strength cannabis plants and harvests buds for them to sell.
And he makes very clear what happens to those who dare to cross him, matter-of-factly boasting how he chopped off two fingers of one client who failed to pay – and got his money before he chopped off a foot.
Drug Baron Selamet Mehmetaj, nicknamed ‘The Devil’, (Above) is a notorious dealer who uses Instagram to sell cannabis
The drug baron, whose £50,000 Mercedes-Benz without a front number plate is parked nearby, has agreed to meet potential new clients after they contacted him via the anonymous Instagram page that advertises his business
Meet ‘The Devil’, who is raking in millions from his wholesale drug-dealing business. On his Instagram page titled ‘Albanian Blood’, Mehmetaj has been showing off his cannabis factories and posting videos to highlight what strains are available, encouraging new customers to get in touch.
Instagram removed the page after being contacted by the Daily Mail.
But while the page was still live, undercover Mail journalists posing as customers made contact via the social media app.
Mehmetaj met them near his home in Palmers Green. During the meeting, he:
- Bragged that he dodged a firearms charge despite police finding a Russian gun he’d smuggled in from Albania and hidden in his car, saying his solicitor had cooked up a story claiming the gun wasn’t his.
- Splurged the cash from his illicit business on a bling lifestyle including a £50,000 Mercedes-Benz CLA AMG, an Audi RS7 – which he drives at over 200mph on motorways using fake plates – and a Formula 3 car for off-road racing.
- Laughed as he described how police missed a stash of cocaine, cannabis and bullets when they raided his five-bedroom flat because they failed to search one room.
Mehmetaj, who is from the northern Albanian town of Tropoja, has developed a thriving drugs empire in the UK – and a social media following to promote it.
Although his Instagram page titled Gjak Shqipez, which means Albanian Blood, was deleted, his other pages, which do not promote cannabis, remain active.
After an undercover reporter messaged the Albanian Blood account inquiring about buying cannabis wholesale, he agreed to meet at a cafe.
Arriving in his blacked-out Mercedes-Benz CLA AMG, he told how his business had boomed during lockdown because everyone was at home.
Mehmetaj, who is from the northern Albanian town of Tropoja, has developed a thriving drugs empire in the UK – and a social media following to promote it
Mehmetaj explained how every month he grows up to 2,500 cannabis plants – which he calls his ‘babies’ – including high strength ‘stardog’ and the super-potent ‘wedding cake’.
He said he sells each plant for £10-15 in batches of up to 300, and boxes of harvested cannabis by the kilogram. According to Mehmetaj, the business makes him millions a year, but when sold on by dealers the plants would be worth tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds.
He said ‘many people call me’ for orders, adding: ‘Today they called me and somebody wants 200, somebody wants 300. I have people who take every single month from me for their warehouses.’
Instagram played a major role in advertising his business, Mehmetaj said, explaining nobody knew he was behind the Albanian Blood page which had almost 1,000 followers.
To drive traffic to it, he posted links and pictures from the account on another Instagram page with 12,000 followers. This more popular page shows off his cars and cash, mocks the police and links to a rap video he stars in called Gangster Love. Other rap songs he has produced under the name Memz are available on Spotify and Apple Music.
Selamet Mehmetaj has his handcuffs removed and allowed to go free by police after being stopped on the roadside by police. It is not known why or when he was stopped
In his online profile, he is called ‘the Devil’, he said, because ‘that’s what they call me’. He said: ‘I shared [Albanian Blood links] from my big Instagram and everyone knows me so they saw the page and many people were interested in it and said, ‘Yeah, we want to buy it’.’
After clients contacted him via Albanian Blood he took their numbers then arranged to meet in person which is ‘safer’ than sending messages online. He said that if someone breaks his trust ‘it’s gunna be very bad’ and in a thinly veiled warning, described his treatment of a client who didn’t pay. After using a mutual friend to lure the client into a meeting, his gang bundled him into a van, he said. ‘I took him from Stoke-on-Trent all the way down to London, I put him in a weed house basement, beat him up three times a day, he didn’t give me no alternative, I cut off two of his fingers,’ Mehmetaj said. ‘I said you’ve got 24 hours to make a phone call, find the money anywhere in this planet, I don’t care.’
He said he also contacted the man’s relatives, and told them: ‘I’ve cut two of his fingers. Next thing is going to be his foot.’
When he eventually paid, Mehmetaj told him: ‘This should be a scar in your life and a reminder to what happens when you f*** about someone who’s true.’
He added: ‘I did that to that guy then I went in the evening and I slept like a baby. I did not care.
‘My stress was that I couldn’t sleep until I got him.
‘My stress was that I have to have him in my hand. Once I have in my hand he has no chance.’
Social media posts from Mehmetaj also warn of his violence, with a disturbing Facebook video posted in March showing a man with a bloodied face whimpering as he is hit in the back of the car. An accompanying comment states: ‘This is what happens to those who try to steal from us.’
Another violent video from February shows a terrified man apparently held captive in a house being slapped.
The video is accompanied by an expletive-filled warning.
And one post on his ‘Albanian Blood’ Instagram page featured a picture of a hooded man. The caption read: ‘We caught this burglar inside the cannabis house.
‘The Albanian put him in a car and cut him to pieces. What do you think?’
Mehmetaj also told the undercover reporter how in April 2020 he was arrested after police found a Russian PK machine gun hidden under the gearbox in his Mercedes-Benz. But after 48 hours in jail he said he got out, partly because he only ever handled the gun with gloves. He claimed that it must have been hidden in the car without him knowing since he bought it in 2018.
He added: ‘However, they arrested the guy who sold it to me… I think he’s gunna get five years.’
On Instagram, he posted a picture of him posing with a different gun in front of his car.
During the investigation into the Russian gun, police turned his house upside down, he said. But they searched the wrong room and missed a stash of cocaine, cannabis and bullets, he said.
Describing his lifestyle, he boasted about his cars and said a fortnight ago he drove his Audi RS7 at 230mph on the M1. In one Instagram post, he films himself driving at over 140mph in his Mercedes-Benz. He avoids speeding fines by using fake plates which he routinely changes.
At the end of the meeting, he roared off in his Mercedes-Benz, jumping a red light despite a police car parked nearby.
His social media pages show more evidence of him mocking the law. On Facebook in March, he posted footage taken by a friend of him being searched by police because there was a ‘strong smell of cannabis’ coming out of his car.
He added a series of laughing emojis and the comment: ‘Hey chief I do not have hashish in my car.’ In another post from the same month, he films himself mocking police as he drives past officers attending a motorway crash.
Mehmetaj declined to comment.
We alerted Scotland Yard about Mehmetaj and have offered to pass on more information.
‘I cut off his fingers and slept like a baby’
Undercover Mail reporters contacted ‘the Devil’ on his Instagram site, posing as potential clients. He agreed to meet near his north London home, where he explained how he ran his business – and warned what happened to those who crossed him.
On the client who failed to pay:
‘My guys put him in a van. Guess what? I took him from Stoke-on-Trent all the way down to London, I put him in a weed house basement, beat him up three times a day, he didn’t give me no alternative, I cut off two of his fingers.
‘I said this should be a scar in your life and a reminder to what happens when you f*** about someone who’s true.’
‘I tell you what, I did that to that guy then I went in the evening and I slept like a baby. I did not care.
‘My stress was that I couldn’t sleep until I got him. My stress was that I have to have him in my hand.
‘Once I have in my hand he has no chance.’
On his firearms arrest:
‘They found in my Mercedes, they found a gun.’
‘I got arrested. I only stayed in jail 48 hours, then I left.
‘The thing is they did not find anything that links me with it, fingerprints.
‘Whenever I touched it I had something on my hands, every single time.’
On searching the room in his flat after arrest:
‘They turned it upside down, they didn’t find nothing.
‘But underneath – they put the dog upstairs – it was another room underneath, underneath I had white [cocaine], I had green [cannabis], I had bullets. But I tell you what, they did not find any of it.’
On his ‘Albanian Blood’ Instagram page advertising cannabis:
‘No one knows it’s me and that’s just the stupid thing.’
‘I posted it out there… and many people were interested, of course, [saying], ‘Yeah, we want to buy it’.’
[Reporter] So Instagram is good for advertising?
‘Yeah, advertising. Grow yourself more.’
On his cannabis farm and sales:
‘Round here, I have a place where I make… there’s going to be 2,000 or 2,500 babies [cannabis plants] every single time, like a month.
‘I have people every two months they come and get for their warehouses, they come and get for their houses, whatever.’
‘If you take this to Liverpool, a kilo of this will go even like up to five-five [£5,500].
‘This is ‘caramel wedding cake’ [a highly potent strain of cannabis].’
Although his Instagram page titled Gjak Shqipez, which means Albanian Blood, was deleted, his other pages, which do not promote cannabis, remain active
Published at Tue, 26 Oct 2021 19:17:34 +0000