Hydrangea high: Is a new drug coming to France?

Questions are being asked in France over whether a new, potentially hazardous drug is set to take over the market - the common hydrangea plant. Concerns have grown after a spate of plant thefts that some French are turning to hydrangeas as a cheaper option to cannabis.

Hydrangea high: Is a new drug coming to France?
Is hydrangea set to become a new trendy drug of choice in France? Photo: Wlcutler/wiros/Flickr

In a week when history was made in France with the first ever bill tabled that would legalise cannabis, you would have thought all talk about highs would have revolved around the words pot or marijuana.

But instead it has been the common hydrangea plant that has dominated the drug related news this week, with some news sites asking whether “Hydrangeas are the new cannabis” in France (see below).

All talk of smoking hydrangea petals stems from reports that a gang of robbers were targeting gardens in the north of the country pulling up the plants by the dozen.

The "Hortensia Gang" as they have been dubbed, after the plant's other name, left garden owners across the north fuming.

“This problem is not normal, people are going onto private property, it has to stop,” one victim of hydrangea theft told La Voix du Nord newspaper. “The more we talk about it the more it will be taken seriously,” he said.

His was not an isolated incident either.

“Many of my staff have been affected, the whole town council too,” the mayor of Aix-en-Issart told La Voix du Nord.

In fact dozens of reports of thefts have of hydrangeas have been made to police around the area forcing police to open an investigation.

Captain Frédéric Evrard, spokesperson for the Nord-Pas-de-Calais regional gendarmerie blamed the economic crisis.

"With the crisis we have the impression people are now turning towards natural products, because synthetic ones are more expensive,e he told Le Figaro newspaper.

The thefts have sparked fears that a craze that began in Germany, where hydrangeas are regularly pilfered from gardens, has crossed the border into France. It centres around rumours that when dried, the petals of the hydrangea plant, offer a similar high to cannabis if they are rolled up and smoked in a joint.

Last year our colleagues at The Local Germany reported how the craze sparked up in Bavaria.

Laurent Karila a psychiatrist specialising in addictions told France’s Metro News that when smoked a hydrangea plant can indeed have “hallucinogenic and euphoric” effects.

Certain molecules in the plant can be similar to hallucinogens contained in cannabis, the expert added but said that no clinical trials have been carried out that offer proof to that theory.

Mention of hydrangeas has also popped up on several online forums for drug users.

“I first noticed  I was very relaxed, so I continued to smoke it, then I was so stoned I had to lie down. For what it’s worth I would not recommend it,” said one commenter named KGB1977 on the website

But others in the know were keen to issue warnings about smoking hydrangea petals.

“It’s not a herb that will make you laugh,” said the vice president of SOS addictions. “It has potentially harmful side affects for the health that can lead to digestive, respiratory or heart problems.”

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Germany should make cannabis available at pharmacies not ‘coffee shops’, says FDP boss

Germany's possible new government could well relax the country's strict cannabis laws. But FDP leader Christian Lindner says he doesn't want to go down the Netherlands route.

A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021.
A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

The Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) are set to engage in coalition talks in a bid to become the next German government.  And the future of cannabis will likely be one of the topics to be thrashed out.

In drug policy, the three parties are not too far apart in their positions. So it’s possible that the drug could be decriminalised.

However, nothing is set in stone and the parties still haven’t come to a common line on the question of where and to what extent cannabis could be accessed. 

The leader of the Liberal FDP, Christian Lindner, has now come out in favour of allowing cannabis products such as hashish to be sold in a controlled manner. 

Consumers should be allowed “to purchase a quantity for their own use, for example, in a pharmacy after health education,” Lindner told a live broadcast on German daily Bild on Sunday.

Lindner said he was sceptical about the sale in “coffee shops” according to the Dutch model. “I am in favour of controlled distribution, and therefore health education must be able to take place,” he said.

READ MORE: Patients in Germany still face hurdles accessing medical marijuana

People in the Netherlands can access cannabis products in coffee shops under the country’s tolerant drugs policy. However coffee shops have to follow certain strict conditions. For instance they are not allowed to sell large quantities to an individual. 

Lindner said his main aims were about “crime and health prevention” and not with “legalising a right to intoxication”.

It’s not clear if Lindner advocates for prescription-only cannabis for medical use, or an over-the-counter model. 

The FDP previously said that they they are in favour of the creation of licensed shops. Their manifesto highlights the health benefits, tax windfalls and reallocation of police resources that legalisation would create.

The Green party also want licensed shops, as well as a whole new approach to drug control starting with the controlled legalisation of marijuana. The Greens state that “strict youth and user protection” would be the centre point of their legislation and hope to “pull the rug from under the black market”.

The SPD also want a reform of Germany’s prohibition stance – but are more cautious than the smaller parties on the legalisation aspect. They would like to initially set up pilot projects. 

READ ALSO: Why Germany could be on the brink of legalising cannabis

Controversial topic

So far, the sale of cannabis is officially banned in Germany. Possession of cannabis is also currently illegal across the entire country. Those caught carrying the substance can face anything from a fine to five years in jail.

However, the justice system generally looks away if you are caught carry small quantities for personal use unless you have a previous conviction.

The definition of personal use differs from state to state, with Berlin having the most liberal rules and Bavaria the tightest.

It is estimated that around four million people regularly use cannabis in Germany.

Representatives of police unions in Germany have warned against legalisation. They argue that cannabis is an often trivialised drug that can lead to considerable health problems and social conflicts, especially among young people.

Oliver Malchow, from the GdP police union, said that “it doesn’t make any sense to legalise another dangerous drug on top of alcohol”.

The current Ministry of Health also continues to oppose the legalisation of cannabis, a spokesperson for Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) made clear. Cannabis is a dangerous substance and therefore legalisation is not advisable, the spokesman said.